6 Years Ago, Forgotten Once-Iconic Sci-Fi Book's Adaptation Lost Record Money

6 Years Ago, Forgotten Once-Iconic Sci-Fi Book's Adaptation Lost Record Money
Image credit: Universal Pictures

Cannibalistic cities on wheels didn’t ride fast enough to collect any real money.


  • In 2018, director Christian Rivers released a live-action adaptation of Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines book.
  • Despite its potential, the movie turned out unimpressive, leading to its 26 and 48% Critic and Audience Scores, respectively.
  • Worse yet, it lost over $135M to the studio, barely earning back $83M of its at least $110M production budget.

If there’s one thing you should know about fantasy and sci-fi live-action adaptations then it is that they’re always ride-or-die. A big-scale movie in that genre can’t really perform “okay” — it will either become a new cultural phenomenon or, more likely, go horribly wrong and turn into hundred-million-dollar losses and a laughing stock soon after its premiere. It’s a risky ordeal, making these adaptations.

In 2018, the world saw the clearest proof of that when Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines was released.

Mortal Engines the Movie Had Vast Potential

When your movie has solid source material, that’s half of the work already carved out for you.

Director Christian Rivers decided to adapt Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines, and that was his case: the original books used to be wildly popular back in the day, and the post-apocalyptic steampunk setting was perfect for creating staggering backdrops for high-dense action.

We mean, it’s a Mad Max-ish futuristic steampunk-fueled conspiracy action about gigantic cities moving on wheels and consuming each other for resources. How can you not love that?!

Unfortunately, the adaptation lacked the latter. While largely praised for its flashy eye-catching special effects and great scapes, 2018’s Mortal Engines didn’t have, well, the other necessary components of a successful movie. From a promising future franchise, live-action Mortal Engines quickly combusted and turned to ash.

Mortal Engines Set Frustrating Anti-Records

6 Years Ago, Forgotten Once-Iconic Sci-Fi Book's Adaptation Lost Record Money - image 1

Christian Rivers’ 2018 adaptation aimed for the stars but ended up in a massive debt trap, instead. The movie’s production budget was estimated to be over $110M, meaning it would have needed over $220M to break even; but after its pathetic $7.5M opening weekend, it was already clear that that city was riding nowhere.

Mortal Engines ended its theatrical run with just over $83.6M worldwide, meaning it lost at least $135M to its studio. But while some box office failures at least get decent reviews and become classics, that wasn’t the case with Christian Rivers’ adaptation: Mortal Engines the Movie currently has a disappointing 26% Critic Score and an appropriately middling 48% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes.

For a movie with so much potential, it’s genuinely upsetting and frustrating.