More than 35 years after Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner wowed audiences and critics, its sequel Blade Runner 2049 finally hits the big screen this weekend.
Cult is the best way to describe the original Blade Runner. When the original title was released on June 25, 1982, it didn’t trigger shock waves at the box office, grossing close to $28M in its initial release off a budget with a similar amount. There were other tentpoles towering around Blade Runner that summer, in particular E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which captivated every living soul and played for an entire year, ultimately grossing $359.1M. Other big summer films in 1982 included An Officer and a Gentleman ($129.8M), Rocky III ($124.1M), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ($78.9M) and Poltergeist ($76.6M).
But over time, Blade Runner has aged like great wine, yielding various recuts, over-the-top critical acclaim and a spot in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Unlike the time when the original Blade Runner opened second at the domestic B.O. with $6.1M behind the third weekend of E.T., which made $13.7M, the hope by financier Alcon and Sony International Releasing is that the three-plus decades worth of generational fans will come out for Blade Runner 2049. The sequel easily will own No. 1 stateside with roughly $45M at 4,000-plus theaters and an overseas opening in the mid-$50M range for a grand $100M global debut. That start easily will make Blade Runner 2049 the biggest box office opening for leading man Ryan Gosling and director Denis Villeneuve.
Those figures, by the way, are within the wheelhouse of other late-’70s/early -’80s cult sci-fi reboots: read Mad Max: Fury Road ($45.4M domestic opening), Tron: Legacy ($44M), and Prometheus ($51M). Last week, Fandango reported that advance ticket sales for Blade Runner 2049 were outpacing that of Fury Road and October’s top two record openers, Gravity ($55.8M) and Scott’s The Martian ($54.3M).
Movietickets.com reports that Blade Runner 2049 advance ticket sales are selling at 6x that of Villeneuve’s previous film, last year’s sci-fi Best Picture nominee Arrival ($24M opening weekend) and 3x that of last summer’s War for the Planet of the Apes ($56.3M opening).
Critics are over the moon about Blade Runner 2049, giving a 95% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score. In the UK, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw gives it five stars and calls it “a narcotic spectacle of eerie and pitiless vastness, by turns satirical, tragic and romantic” and insists it “just has to be experienced on the biggest screen possible.” On the aggressive side, it’s possible that Blade Runner 2049 mints $50M stateside and $60M overseas. Sony is understood to be pegging it closer to $48M-$52M. The best markets ultimately should include a mix of the UK, Korea, Japan, China and France.
Warner Bros. is distributing the Alcon Entertainment co-financed sequel for a domestic distribution fee estimated at about 10%. Sony took foreign, and while they also co-financed Blade Runner 2049 with reportedly $90M of the production cost before rebates and tax credits, they do not co-own it. The Denis Villeneuve-directed, Scott executive produced hits foreign shores today, specifically in France, and by Friday will have a 61% overseas footprint. Domestic previews start at 7PM and the sequel will play the full spectrum of 3D, Imax, D-Box, etc. The only major markets not going this session are Korea, Japan and China. The latter has been dated for November 10 while Korea is October 12 and Japan, a huge market for Blade Runner 2049, is going October 27.
Blade Runner 2049 is a big bet for Alcon producers Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, graduating them up to tentpole-budget-size features from the small and midsize pictures they’ve produced in the past including The Blind Side, Insomnia and Dolphin Tale. To date, they’ve had only one big-budget misfire: the 2015 $100M remake of Point Break, which they sold off foreign on but still came up short with a $133.7M global gross. Various insiders assert that Blade Runner 2049 cost $155M net, while some in the film-finance world believe it’s at least $20M higher. The production took great advantage of rebates and shooting in Budapest, Hungary.
One of the overriding concerns on Blade Runner 2049 is its 163-minute running time, which limits the number of showtimes in a given day. It also puts more pressure on the film to perform in a given multiplex so it can stay on screens.
Nonetheless, given the sequel’s cinematic legacy and the fact that Harrison Ford returns as replicant hunter Rick Deckard, the movie should push out a nice multiple, particularly with key Asian markets expected to perform and a good date in China with a significant screen count. Japan is a big focus as the IP is popular there and inspired the film’s aesthetics. A premiere will be held in Japan in late October with Ford, Villeneuve and Cuban actress Ana de Armas strolling the red carpet.
Juxtaposing Blade Runner 2049 to Mad Max: Fury Road, the George Miller-directed 2015 pic that also was critically acclaimed opened to $64M in 68 markets in 2015 (that included Korea). The number translated to today would be $52.4M in the same markets and at current rates – however Fury Road released in May and had a pretty much simultaneous worldwide showcase at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s also a shorter film. Fury Road went on to $379M global, of which $225M was from international markets, and scored multiple Oscars. The pic’s top plays offshore were Korea, the UK and France.
In other comps, folks are looking to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which opened around $55M-$60M in the same markets and finaled at $487M international/$675M global in 2014. Prior to that, another high-concept pic from Nolan, 2010’s Inception, did an amazing $533M overseas. It was led by China, the UK, France, Japan and Korea. Scott’s Prometheus updated another franchise he birthed and scored best in the UK, Russia and Japan. Its ultimate box office was $277M overseas/$403M worldwide – with a lower RT score versus Blade Runner 2049. Finally, one more comp to take into account is Villeneuve’s Arrival. He is a respected director who made a lyrical sci-fi epic that ultimately crossed $200M worldwide.
Along with interest in the IP itself, Blade Runner 2049 star Ryan Gosling is clearly a factor worldwide, particularly after the runaway success of La La Land last year, but also in certain markets thanks to his art house collaborations with Nicolas Winding Refn. And Ford’s popularity should not be denied. The folks who turned out for Star Wars: The Force Awakens will want to be on board with the return of another of his most iconic characters.
In terms of promotions overseas, Sony did a weeklong Blade Runner 2049 pop culture experience in London to introduce the property to a new generation via influencers, tastemakers and new media platforms. YouTube Space London was outfitted with re-creations of entire sets from the film with 27 influencers from 17 territories creating bespoke content to be shared with 17M followers. Also in London, a screening of the first film was held at BFI Imax and featured a Q&A with Scott and Villeneuve, also with influencers in attendance. A branded livestream music event with Blade Runner 2049-inspired tunes reached audiences around the world. Villeneuve, Gosling, de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks (who steals the film) traveled to the CineEurope exhibitors conference this summer in Barcelona to introduce a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the pic. Ford also popped over to Spain with Gosling and de Armas at another point.
There also was an Australian-Asian junket focusing on China, Japan, Korea and Oz, and with Gosling participating in a Skype session with Chinese fans. Gosling, Ford, de Armas, Hoeks and Villeneuve traveled to Germany, France and the UK; Villeneuve has visited Moscow and Rome; de Armas did a Mexico tour, Jared Leto a Brazil tour and Hoeks led a tour in Amsterdam. The hope is that there will also be an upcoming tour in China. Last night in Hollywood, the world premiere for Blade Runner 2049 was scaled back in respect of the Las Vegas tragedy: The red carpet was canceled, but a screening at the Dolby Theatre and an afterparty was held.
Also opening in the U.S./Canada this weekend is 20th Century Fox/Chernin’s The Mountain Between Us, starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. The pic, which will be in play at 3,000 locations with an eye on a $11M-$12M is counting on older females. Based on the Charles Martin novel, The Mountain Between Us tells the story of a man and woman whose prop plane crashes in the High Uintas Wilderness and are forced to battle for their lives amid the snow and cold. The pic currently has a 57% Rotten Tomatoes score.
Also Lionsgate has Hasbro’s big-screen version of My Little Pony, which is tracking between $14M-$17M at 2,500 sites. Directed by Jayson Thiessen and written by Meghan McCarthy, Rita Hsiao and Michael Vogel, the pic features the voices of Emily Blunt, Kristin Chenoweth, Taye Diggs and Uzo Aduba. Previews start at 7 PM Thursday.