The Real Reason Artemis Fowl Bombed

2020 was sort of the bankrupt wedge on the Wheel of Fortune of show business. Still, there were a few potential bright spots on the horizon, as viewers went through the quarantine rigamarole of learning to make sourdough starter and divorcing their spouses. Artemis Fowl looked like a solid bet, for example: Another in a long line of pretenders to the Harry Potter crown, maybe, but with high production value, a solid director, and Josh Gad. Not to mention the beloved source material, a series of young adult novels from Irish Children's Laureate Eoin Colfer. 

The books tell the story of the eponymous Artemis Fowl, a 12-year-old whose entire existence has been dedicated to the pursuit of a more perfect criminal enterprise and, on a side note, proving that fairies exist. The enterprising young man embarks on an Ocean's-style heist of the magical world in the first book, and the whole endeavor is presented in an astonishing spectrum of moral greys. It's a swell read.

The process of moving the Artemis Fowl series from page to screen was reportedly an arduous one, beginning with a proposed feature film from Miramax in the early 2000s. The rights to the series bounced around until they landed at Disney, where a Kenneth Branagh-helmed motion picture was set for an August 2019 release date ... then a May 2020 release date, and finally, a Disney+ exclusive premiere in June of 2020. Unfortunately for most fans of the book, the end result was not worth the wait.

Artemis Fowl wound up less than magical

When Artemis Fowl finally hit the streaming service, as one of the first in a series of surrenders to the state of the movie theater industry in the pandemic, it was lambasted by critics. With 171 reviews calculated, it currently holds a gentleman's 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Read through internet critiques while putting a quarter in a jar every time you see the word "bland," and your kids will never have to worry about how they'll pay for college.

So, what went wrong? It depends on who you ask, but the general feel in the collective room points toward "everything." 

Critics from various outlets derided a poor script, underwhelming performances, and a perceived canyon where the plot should have been puttied over with gobs of exposition and special effects. It is remembered today as the film that inspired the largest number of concerned phone calls to Judi Dench, next to Cats. Perhaps one of the biggest problems, though, were the massive deviations from the source material — most notably, the fact that Artemis wasn't a villain anymore. Why? Branagh had his reasons, at one point explaining that his goal was to start with a more heroic protagonist and slowly progress him into the more sinister figure from the books, because he felt general audiences would have a hard time accepting Artemis being "preformed as an 11-year-old Bond villain." Arguments aside, fans weren't happy about it. 

What's really wild, though, is the fact that Artemis Fowl managed to pull itself up from the muck and become one of the most streamed films of the year. In November of 2020, Variety reported that it was Disney+'s fifth most-watched offering within seven days of release. The lesson, if there is one, seems to be that even a movie deemed acceptable by fewer than one in ten critics can still succeed if the only other option is for viewers to keep trying to learn how to make their own bread.