Filming took place in Australia under the American film production and distribution company Summit Entertainment. While the film's production budget was $140 million, the parent company Lionsgate's financial exposure was less than $10 million due to tax incentives and pre-sales. The Australian government provided a tax credit for 46% of the film's budget. When Lionsgate began promoting the film in November 2015, it received backlash for its predominantly white cast playing Egyptian deities. In response, Lionsgate and director Proyas apologized for ethnically-inaccurate casting.
In an alternate version of Egypt, the world is flat and the Egyptian gods live among humans, they are distinguished from humans by their greater height, golden blood, and ability to transform into their animal-headed deity forms.
Bek, a thief with little faith in the gods, with his love Zaya are attending the coronation of Horus, God of the Air. Horus is shown getting ready for his coronation as his love and Goddess of Love, Hathor surprises him. Horus hints at marriage and they discuss Hathor's protection bracelet made of the stars which Horus gave for her to protect and save her from her previous role as a guide to dead souls in the underworld. During the ceremony, Horus' father and King and God of the Afterlife, Osiris is killed by his extremely jealous brother Set, God of the Desert who seizes the throne and declares a new regime where the dead will have to pay with riches to pass into the afterlife. Horus is stripped of his eyes, which are the source of his power, and almost killed. Hathor pleads with Set in surrender to spare him and he is instead exiled. Hathor becomes an enslaved mistress to Set.
A year later, Bek has been working as a slave building monuments while Zaya is now under the ownership of Set's chief architect Urshu. Believing that Horus is the only one who can defeat Set, she gives Bek the floor plans to Set's treasure vault and also manages to get a glimpse of the plans for Set's pyramid. Bek is able to steal back one of Horus' eyes by sneaking into the treasure vault. However, Urshu finds out about their theft and kills Zaya as the couple flee. Bek takes her body to the blind Horus and makes a bargain: Horus agrees to bring Zaya back from the dead for his eye and Bek's knowledge about Set's pyramid.
Later, they are traveling to see Ra, God of the Sun and his grandfather's divine vessel above the Earth. Horus is unable to convince his grandfather to regrant him his power so he can finally intervene and defeat Set himself as Ra is both neutral about their conflict and daily at war with the enormous shadow beast Apophis that threatens to devour the world, but does allow Horus to obtain divine waters from Ra's vessel which can be used at Set's pyramid to extinguish the desert thirst and weaken him gravely. Ra tells Horus that his weakness is the result of him not fulfilling his destiny, which Horus believes means avenging his parents' deaths.
Elsewhere, Set asks Hathor to take him to the underworld which he next desires to conquer, but she refuses and manages to escape by briefly taking off her bracelet and momentarily being dragged into the underworld. After surviving an attack by Set's Egyptian Minotaurs led by Mnevis who attempts to reclaim Horus' eye and an attack by some of Set's minions and their giant pet cobras, Hathor finds Bek and Horus and saves them. Horus at first doesn't trust her as she is a mistress of Set, who had blinded him, while she tries to convince him that Set is her enemy as well. When they tell her of their plan regarding Set's pyramid, she warns them of a guardian sphinx who will kill anyone not wise enough to solve a riddle. The group then heads to the library of Thoth, God of Wisdom, so they can recruit him to solve the riddle.
Arriving at Set's pyramid, they overcome its traps including the sphinx, to reach the source of Set's power. But before they can pour in the divine water, Set traps them and reveals Horus's deception to Bek: that he is unable to bring Zaya back from the dead. Set destroys their flask of divine water and kills Thoth by taking his brain. Horus is able to save Hathor and Bek.
Horus admits before the enraged Bek to caring more about his revenge than the mortals. Hathor feels guilt for not exposing the deception and as the Goddess of Love, helps the doomed lovers. She sacrifices her own safety for Zaya's payment into the afterlife by giving Bek the protective bracelet which stops the underworld souls from overwhelming her and calling the God of Death Anubis to take him to Zaya. Therefore, she lets herself be dragged to the underworld while Horus realizes that he still loves her.
Having combined Thoth's brain, Osiris's heart, Horus's eye, and wings from Nephthys with himself, Set travels to Ra, appealing to his father for approval and questioning his favoritism for Osiris and denying him the throne and children. Ra claims that all of Set's prior mistreatments were tests preparing Set for his true role: the honor and burden of taking Ra's place as the defender of the world aboard his solar barge, fighting against the demon Apophis. Set is dismayed to hear his destiny is to be alone above the planet until he dies and refuses the offer. He wants to destroy the afterlife so that he can be immortal. Ra tries to fight Set by blasting him with his spear, though Set survives. He stabs Ra to his surprise, takes his spear of power, and casts him off the boat freeing Apophis to consume both the mortal and underworld realms.
Bek finds Zaya, who refuses Hathor's gift as she doesn't want an afterlife without Bek, but then Apophis attacks and the gate to the afterlife is closed by Anubis. Bek returns to the mortal world, where Horus is amazed that Bek still wants to help take down Set. Bek tells him it was Zaya who told him to, as she still has faith in Horus.
Horus climbs up the outer wall of an obelisk Set is standing on and attempts to battle him, but is heavily outmatched. Whilst Bek fights Urshu who is thrown off to his death, Bek ascends on the inside and joins the battle, removing Horus's stolen eye from Set's armor, being wounded in the process. As Bek slides toward the edge of the obelisk, he throws the eye toward Horus, who must choose to catch it or save Bek instead. Horus reaches for Bek and apologizes for all he has put him through. As they plummet toward the ground, Horus finds that he now has the power to transform into his divine form and he catches Bek and flies him to safety. Horus realizes that it wasn't the recovery of his eye nor revenge that was his destiny, it was the protection of his people that he needed to fight for. Now, Horus has the strength for battling Set, and he gains the obelisk and kills him. After the battle and Set's death, he then finds Ra wounded and floating in space, and returns his spear to him, allowing Ra to once again repel Apophis and for Anubis to reopen the gates.
As Horus returns to Bek, a child holds out his other eye which she has found, while people cheer him. But Horus's joy turns to sadness as he arrives to find Bek dying from the wounds he sustained whilst fighting Set. Horus carries him to Osiris's tomb and lays him beside Zaya. Ra arrives and offers to bestow any power on him to repay Horus for his life and Egypt's survival. All Horus wants is bringing Bek and Zaya back to life. The other gods are also revived and have their attributes restored (except for Osiris and Isis, who died a full year before and have already passed into the Afterlife). Horus is crowned king by Thoth and declares the afterlife will be for those who do good in the world. Bek is made chief advisor, and he gives Horus back Hathor's bracelet letting him leave to rescue her from the underworld.
Gods of Egypt is directed by Alex Proyas based on a screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. The film was produced under Summit Entertainment. Proyas was contracted by Summit in May 2012, to write the screenplay with Sazama and Sharpless, and to direct the film. Proyas said he sought to make a big-budget film with an original premise, to contrast franchise films. The director cited the following films as influences on Gods of Egypt: The Guns of Navarone (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Sergio Leone's Western films. Lionsgate anticipated for Gods of Egypt to be the first film in a new franchise after it finished releasing The Hunger Games films.
Actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was cast in June 2013. Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush, and Brenton Thwaites joined the cast toward the end of 2013. Chadwick Boseman and Élodie Yung joined the cast at the start of 2014.
The film was shot in Australia. A crew of 200 began pre-production in Sydney in New South Wales, and producers considered filming in Melbourne in Victoria, to take advantage of the state's tax incentive. Docklands Studios Melbourne was too booked to accommodate Gods of Egypt, and producers were instead offered an airport facility for production. The Australian states New South Wales and Victoria competed to be the location of the film's production, and Summit selected NSW in February 2014. The state's deputy premier, Andrew Stoner, estimated that the production would add 400 jobs to the state and contribute $75 million to its economy.
Principal photography began on March 19, 2014 at Fox Studios Australia in Sydney. The setting of Anubis' temple was filmed at Centennial Park in Sydney, and visual effects were laid over the scene. The production budget was $140 million. Jon Feltheimer, the CEO of Summit's parent company Lionsgate, said Lionsgate's financial exposure was under $10 million due to tax incentives of filming in Australia, as well as foreign pre-sales. The Australian government's tax credit to have the film produced in the country covered 46% of the $140 million production budget, and most of the remaining budget was covered by the foreign pre-sales.
In the film, the gods in humanoid form are 9 feet (2.7 m) tall and in "battle beast" form are over 12 feet (3.7 m) tall. Proyas used forced perspective and motion control photography to portray the difference in height between the actors portraying the gods and the humans. Proyas called the logistical challenge a "reverse Hobbit", referring to The Lord of the Rings films, in which Hobbits are depicted as shorter than humans. For the Sphinx, actor Kenneth Ransom portrayed the giant creature via motion capture. For the god Thoth, who can appear as many copies, actor Chadwick Boseman was filmed hundreds of times from different angles. For a scene with many copies of Thoth, other actors took a day to film the scene, where Boseman filmed the scene for three days.
Composer Marco Beltrami, who scored Proyas's previous films Knowing (2009) and I, Robot (2004), returned to score Gods of Egypt.
Racial and ethnic casting
White actors make up most of the principal cast of Gods of Egypt. When Lionsgate began marketing the film, the Associated Press said the distributor received backlash for ethnically inaccurate casting. Lionsgate and director Alex Proyas both issued apologies. The AP said, "While some praised the preemptive mea culpa... others were more skeptical, concluding that it's simply meant to shut down any further backlash."
The casting practice of white actors as Egyptian characters was first reported after filming started in March 2014, when Daily Life's Ruby Hamad highlighted the practice as "Hollywood whitewashing". Lionsgate released a set of character posters in November 2015, and The Guardian reported that the casting received a backlash on Twitter over the predominantly white cast. Some suggested that the casting of black actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays the god Thoth, played into the Magical Negro stereotype. The previous year, the biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings by director Ridley Scott received similar backlash for having a white cast. The Washington Post's Soraya Nadia McDonald also disparaged the casting practice for Gods of Egypt and said Lionsgate released the posters at an unfortunate time. She said with the release of Aziz Ansari's TV series Master of None in the previous week, "Whitewashed casting and the offensiveness of brownface has pretty much dominated the pop culture conversation this week. Promotion for the movie is beginning just as we're wrapping a banner year for discussions of diversity and gender pay equity in the film industry."
When Lionsgate followed its release of posters with a release of a theatrical trailer, Scott Mendelson at Forbes said, "The implication remains that white actors, even generic white actors with zero box office draw, are preferable in terms of domestic and overseas box office than culturally-specific (minority) actors who actually look like the people they are supposed to be playing." He said almost none of the actors, aside from potentially Butler, qualified as box office draws. BET's Evelyn Diaz said while Ridley Scott had defended his casting practice for Exodus by claiming the need to cast box office draws, "Gods of Egypt is headlined by character actors and Gerard Butler, none of whom will have people running to the theater on opening day." Deadline's Ross A. Lincoln said of the released trailer, "Casting here stands out like a sore thumb leftover from 1950s Hollywood. I suspect this film generates a lot of conversation before it hits theaters February 26, 2016."
In response to criticisms of its casting practice, director Alex Proyas and Lionsgate issued apologies in late November 2015 for not considering diversity; Lionsgate said it would strive to do better. Mendelson of Forbes said the apologies were "a somewhat different response" than defenses made by Ridley Scott for Exodus and Joe Wright for Pan (2015). Ava DuVernay, who directed Selma (2014), said, "This kind of apology never happens - for something that happens all the time. An unusual occurrence worth noting." The Guardian's Ben Child said, "The apologies are remarkable, especially given that Gods of Egypt does not debut in cinemas until 26 February and could now suffer at the box office." Michael Ordoña of San Francisco Chronicle said of the apologies, "That's little comfort to the nonwhite actors denied opportunities or the Egyptians who will see a pale shadow of their ancestral traditions." The Casting Society of America applauded the statements from Lionsgate and Proyas. Professor Todd Boyd, chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at the University of Southern California, said, "The apology is an attempt to have it both ways. They want the cast that they selected and they don't want people to hold it against them that it's a white cast."
Boseman, who plays the god Thoth, commenting on the whitewashing, said he expected the backlash to happen when he saw the script. He said, "I'm thankful that it did, because actually, I agree with it. That's why I wanted to do it, so you would see someone of African descent playing Thoth, the father of mathematics, astronomy, the god of wisdom." Actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau said, "A lot of people are getting really worked up online about the fact that I'm a white actor. I'm not even playing an Egyptian; I'm an 8-foot-tall god who turns into a falcon. A part of me just wants to freak out, but then I think, 'There's nothing you can do about it.' You can’t win in that sort of discussion."
In the month leading up to release, director Proyas said his film was fantasy and not intended to be history. He cited "creative license and artistic freedom of expression" to cast the actors he found to fit the roles. He said "white-washing" was a justified concern but for his fantasy film, "To exclude any one race in service of a hypothetical theory of historical accuracy... would have been biased." Proyas said that films "need more people of color and a greater cultural diversity" but that Gods of Egypt "is not the best one to soap-box issues of diversity with". He argued that the lack of English-speaking Egyptian actors, production practicalities, the studio's requirement for box office draws, and Australia having guidelines limiting "imported" actors were all factors in casting for the film. He concluded, "I attempted to show racial diversity, black, white, Asian, as far as I was allowed, as far as I could, given the limitations I was given. It is obviously clear that for things to change, for casting in movies to become more diverse many forces must align. Not just the creative. To those who are offended by the decisions which were made I have already apologised. I respect their opinion, but I hope the context of the decisions is a little clearer based on my statements here." After the film was critically panned, Proyas said, "I guess I have the knack of rubbing reviewers the wrong way. This time of course they have bigger axes to grind – they can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming 'white-wash!!!'"
Lionsgate spent an estimated $30 million on marketing the film. It released a set of character posters in November 2015, for which it received backlash due to white actors playing Egyptian characters, as noted above. Later in the month, it released a theatrical trailer. Lionsgate aired a 60-second spot for Gods of Egypt during the pre-game show of the Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016, though they released the trailer online a day earlier.
In the week before the film's release, Lions released the tie-in mobile game Gods of Egypt: Secrets of the Lost Kingdom on iOS and Android.
BoxOffice forecast two months in advance that Gods of Egypt would gross $14.5 million on its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, and that it would gross $34 million total on its theatrical run. The magazine said the film had "a strong ensemble cast" and that its director has "had a noteworthy following". BoxOffice also said the premise could attract movie-goers who saw Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans, and the Percy Jackson films. Admissions to 3D screenings would help boost Gods of Egypt's gross. The magazine said factors negatively affecting the film's gross were a "lackluster reaction" to its marketing and the backlash to its predominantly white cast causing negative buzz. It anticipated that the film's release would be front-loaded (focused on profiting mainly from opening weekend) due to the poor buzz, its categorization as a fantasy film, and with London Has Fallen opening the following weekend.
A week before the film's release, TheWrap's Todd Cunningham reported an updated forecast of $15 million for its opening weekend in the United States and Canada. The Hollywood Reporter's Pamela McClintock said it was tracking to gross between $12 million and $15 million. Cunningham said the expected gross was low for the film's triple-digit budget as well as additional marketing costs. He said the film could attract Alex Proyas's fan base but that it had suffered "some negativity out there" due to the predominantly white casting as well as the film being perceived to have an "old-fashioned" feel. Exhibitor Relations senior media analyst Jeff Bock said the film "feels late" years after the release of 300 (2007) and Immortals (2011), and an earlier production and release would have been more advantageous. Cunningham said with Lionsgate's financial exposure only being $10 million and the expected opening gross, the film could gross between $40 million and $50 million for its theatrical run in the United States and Canada and ultimately avoid a loss. The Hollywood Reporter's McClintock said "ancient epics" in recent years had not performed well at the box office, citing the 2014 films Hercules, The Legend of Hercules, and Pompeii.
Ryan Faughnder of Los Angeles Times said in the week before the film's release that the expected opening weekend gross meant that Lionsgate's plans to make Gods of Egypt the first film in a new franchise were unlikely. Faughnder said the film would need to perform strongly in territories outside the United States and Canada for a sequel to be developed. Variety's Brent Lang reported that analysts said the film would need to open to $30 million or more in the United States to justify a sequel.
Gods of Egypt grossed $31.2 million in the USA & Canada, and $119.6 million in other countries, for a worldwide total of $150.7 million against a budget of $140 million.
Lionsgate released Gods of Egypt in theaters globally starting on February 25, 2016. It was released in 2D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D. Lionsgate released the film in the United States and Canada on the weekend of February 26–28, as well as in 68 other markets, including Russia, South Korea, and Brazil. Jaguar Films released the film in the United Arab Emirates (February 25) and other countries in the Middle East under the title Kings of Egypt. Viacom 18 released the film in India on February 26, 2016 in four languages: English, Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.
In the United States and Canada, the film was released in 3,117 theaters. It grossed an estimated $800,000 in Thursday-night previews and $4.8 million on Friday, lowering the projected weekend gross to $11–13 million. It went on to gross $14.1 million in its opening weekend, finishing second at the box office behind Deadpool ($31.5 million). It competed with fellow newcomers Eddie the Eagle and Triple 9, as well as with Deadpool, which opened two weekends earlier. Opening-day audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale. The Christian Science Monitor's Molly Driscoll said the Gods of Egypt's US release was during "a traditionally quiet time at the box office". Scott Mendelson of Forbes commented on supporting versus opposing a successful debut of the film, while existing as a great right (an original fantasy from a gifted and visionary director) at the same time."
Outside North America, the film got a staggered release. In its opening weekend, it was number one across Central America, Eastern Europe and South East Asia. Top openings were in Russia ($4.3 million), Brazil ($1.9 million) and Philippines ($1.7 million).
Le Vision Pictures acquired rights from Lionsgate in November 2015 to distribute Gods of Egypt in China, and released the film there on March 11, 2016. China was the film's largest territory, with US$35.6 million. Lionsgate also released the film in the United Kingdom on June 17, 2016.
Gods of Egypt was panned by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 16%, based on 166 reviews, with an average rating of 3.5/10. Metacritic gives the film a score of 25 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
Alonso Duralde of TheWrap wrote, "A mishmash of unconvincing visual effects and clumsy writing—not to mention another depiction of ancient Egypt in which the lead roles are almost all played by white folks—Gods of Egypt might have merited a so-bad-it’s-good schadenfreude fanbase had it maintained the unintentional laughs of its first 10 minutes. Instead, it skids into dullness, thus negating the camp classic that it so often verges on becoming." Joycelyn Noveck of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film a half star out of four, writing, "It’s obvious the filmmakers were gunning for a sequel here. But this bloated enterprise is so tiresome by the end, it seems more likely headed for a long rest somewhere in the cinematic afterlife." Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club called Gods of Egypt "overlong and very silly," and said: "A treasure trove of gilded fantasy bric-a-brac and clashing accents, Proyas’ sword-and-sandals space opera is a head above the likes of Wrath of the Titans, but it rapidly devolves into a tedious and repetitive succession of monster chases, booby traps, and temples that start to crumble at the last minute."
Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian said, "This is ridiculous. This is offensive. This shouldn’t be, and I’m not going to say otherwise if you can’t bring yourself to buy a ticket for this movie. But if you are on the fence you can always offset your karmic footprint with a donation to a charity, because this movie is a tremendous amount of fun." On the other hand, Olly Richards of Empire was heavily critical, calling the film a "catastrophe" and "the Dolly Parton of movies, without any of the knowing wit".
In response to the reviews, director Proyas posted to Facebook calling critics "diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass", who were "trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality says is good or bad."
The film was released on May 31, 2016, on DVD and Blu-ray.