Sunday AM Update: When a studio or a filmmaker builds a movie for north of $170M, the expectation is to soar to the greatest heights at the box office, and a passion project in the hands of James Cameron as producer — what studio wouldn’t double down on that, especially in an era starving for fresh franchises?
His Alita: Battle Angel, directed by Robert Rodriguez, is easily winning the Presidents Day box office, with a $27.8M 3-day and $33M 4-day and a revised 5-day of $41.7M. Overseas stands at $94.3M from 86 markets which includes last week’s $36M plus another $56.1M made this weekend in all territories (including previews) except for Japan and China. This will put Alita‘s WW at $136M by tomorrow. But the pic, despite beating its domestic tracking and an $11.6M Saturday, +55% over Friday, is still a long way from any kind of profitability. Imax contributed $6.5M at 404 screens stateside or 16% of the pic’s overall gross. Some rival B.O. analysts believe that her domestic result at this 5-day level has a shot of hitting $80M, maybe $100M.
What’s clear though is that the word is getting out among Cameron fans to go see the movie, and that’s due to Fox’s recent ads promoting very loudly that the movie is from the creator of Avatar. For previous updates on the Presidents B.O. click here.
One thing is for certain, Alita didn’t do any favors for the overall theatrical business this weekend: The 4-day Presidents Day weekend B.O. is going to be down in a huge way with just over $150M over four days, roughly -57% off from a year ago when Black Panther led all titles to $346.5M. That’s the lowest result for the 4-day holiday since 2001. Wall Street analysts will be making a lot of hay over that early this week.
Fox contends breakeven is between $350M-$400M, while other finance film sources with knowledge of the budget say it’s significantly more, like in the half billion-plus range. A $50M domestic start over 5 days would be considered at the very least respectable for a movie this size. We understand Alita‘s price tag was originally $200M, and shaved down to $170M between New Zealand and Texas tax credits.
Cameron is taking the film to China on Monday for a premiere, a country where they adore him. The pic opens in the Middle Kingdom and Japan on Feb. 22. Alita has a theme that’s similar to Ready Player One, with its underdog versus The Man. Ready Player One saw awesome business in China, with a $61.6M opening and final of $218.4M, and the hope is that Alita can emulate that. The one obstacle is whether the Chinese government allows Alita to have legs as one of their own movies, The Wandering Earth, is conquering the box office with a potential half-billion dollar haul. Still, even if Alita has China-heavy ticket sales, only 25%-27% of that comes back to Fox coffers. In Japan, where we hear the pic is in previews, some audience members have already watched the feature adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm four times.
However, the overall challenge with Alita —film critics’ 59% Rotten Tomatoes score aside—and why it’s not doing well is that fresh sci-fi material and world creation, when its not under the Marvel ‘Goodhousekeeping’ banner, is increasingly becoming an impossible task. We saw this with the Peter Jackson-produced Mortal Engines, which flat-out broke down with a $110M production cost and a final domestic of $16M and WW $81.7M. Audiences are fickle: They’ll either reject what’s foreign in a sci-fi pic, while critics demand that the genre be entirely original and socially relevant. With Alita, esteemed New York Times critic Manohla Dargis felt like she saw this movie too many times before (the pic does have echoes of Avatar and Pinocchio), calling it “a pile-up of clichés in service to technological whiz-bangery, Alita is one more story of the not-quite human brought to life with hubris and bleeding-edge science.” She also slammed that in regards to the pic’s VFX: ” It’s difficult not to wish that more of those hours had been spent telling a really good story instead of tweaking tech and shiny breasts.”
Fox knew that, despite whatever the marketing materials conveyed (read on for that) or critics were sniping, once audiences were in their seats, they would enjoy the ride of Alita (especially in Dolby, which is akin to a great theme park attraction). This is why the studio screened the film multiple times to tastemaker groups and fans ahead of the pic’s opening. This is evident in the pic’s A- CinemaScore, 4 stars from Kids on PostTrak, and 84% grade from men over 25. The studio toured 30 minutes of the pic around the world from last fall through to December, with Alita getting a full preview in its entirety in New Zealand last month.
As far as those staying away from Alita, RelishMix reports that “Some who have seen early screenings warn that the ending is very divisive and hint at a potential cliff hanger – one that might not quite work. For others, they’re not seeing anything new or urgent with Alita, which suggests some action fans are hedging their bets for more reviews and word-of-mouth before deciding whether or not the recent campaign push for ‘see it in theaters’ is worth the trip.”
For the last two years, Fox has been teeing Alita up as an event film: They offered SXSW attendees a chance last year to walk on the sets at Rodriguez’s studio, and they showed off at least 20 minutes at CinemaCon to exhibitors with the pic’s producer Jon Landau in attendance, who talked up the film and how it was a passion project of Cameron’s in development since 2000, only to be sidelined by Avatar. We understand that in regards to the making of Alita, this wasn’t a situation where Fox couldn’t ride herd on 800-lb gorilla filmmakers like Cameron and Rodriguez (ala Warner Bros. and the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending). Cameron and Rodriguez were open to notes, and their gist all along was to be faithful to the source material.
So why did Alita: Battle Angel get its wings clipped? (at least here in the states). We hear it was a challenge for Fox marketing. There was a constant push and pull of who Alita‘s target audience was (teenage girls or older males?) and what it should be sold as, since it’s both a steampunk action sci-fi coupled with a YA romance/coming-of-age story. While that might sound like Hunger Games, understand that property already had its young females readership in the theater. We’re starting off new here with Alita. The fact that Alita was a female-action driven movie wasn’t the problem; rather, the optics: There was a lot of metal, futuristic mecha cyborg stuff, all of which appealed to older males. But at the pic’s core is a love story with a teenage robot girl, which is a tough sell. The one sheets displayed the message that the film is animated. More frustrating: The film didn’t have any stars with its main one being a mo-cap unknown girl.
While it might have been a no brainer for Fox to get behind their Avatar maestro Cameron on Alita, a rival film finance sources exclaimed this morning, “Who spends $170M on fresh IP? It’s fiscally irresponsible.”
Who has turned out to Alita to date? In updated PostTrak, M25+ at 34% are the biggest quad, giving the pic its best grade at 84%. This is followed by men under 25 at 26% (with a 71% grade), then females under 25 (21% with a 73% grade), and females over 25 (19% turnout, 78% positive score). Overall, a healthy 59% recommend. Those between 13-17 made up 8% of Alita’s ticket buyers, giving it an 81% score. Among kids under 12, Boys 10-12 were the biggest demo at 37% followed by Girls 10-12 (23%). But girls loved the movie more at 100% versus boy’s 77%.
If there’s one complaint overall as to why some are scared by Alita: Those big kewpie doll eyes. RelishMix noticed the mixed reaction to the pic leaning toward negative on social media, reporting, “Moviegoers are actually complaining that Alita’s eyes are too big. That sentiment is truly one of the biggest complaints about the movie, that her very look makes the hero appear unreal, and takes the audience out of the experience a bit.”
Why the big eyes then? Essentially, the filmmakers were being true to Kishiro’s source material; that’s how she looks in the comics. While the feature adaptation of manga Ghost in the Shell suffered a whitewashing controversy in the casting of Scarlett Johansson, sources say that no one has greatly objected to Alita, as the title character is rendered in mo-cap.
Word is that this might be the final Fox movie before the Disney merger (some on the Disney side even assumed they’d be handling distribution on this one). If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate that Fox has to go off in a dying spark. There are some close to Alita who believe that the whole merger was a distraction internally, with some turnover in the PR department.
In all fairness to Fox marketing, Alita was just a riddle for them. They pulled off a miracle this Oscar season with Bohemian Rhapsody, a challenge that other studio marketing teams would have buckled under. They bested Bohemian Rhapsody‘s tattered director controversy, outstripped the pic’s tracking with a $51M domestic start, $211M stateside B.O. and $846M+ WW, plus five Oscar noms, including best picture, and two Golden Globe wins for Best Drama and Lead actor Rami Malek. No one could have predicted that success back in September.
Despite Alita‘s lackluster results, a smart move here on behalf of the Fox team moving Alita from its Dec. 21 release date to this weekend: It’s already besting its $24M-$28M tracking. While late December would have been Lightstorm’s favorite spot, since that’s where Avatar launched, Alita would have been pummeled by the big IP competition in Aquaman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Mary Poppins Returns. Even poor Bumblebee couldn’t keep up, making the least of the four titles with $126M, and the lowest in the Transformers franchise despite awesome reviews (93% Rotten Tomatoes) and an A- CinemaScore. Despite any over-indexing that occurs with this pic beating tracking, there’s some considerable upset we hear among everyone involved with the film for along the way, expectations were ratcheted down: Alita went from being a summer tentpole scheduled for July 20 to a Christmas release to now bowing in early winter.
Other notes on this weekend (Updated with Sunday AM studio reported figures)
–Warner Bros. Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is not a dead heat threat to Alita with $21.2M FSS (-38%) and $27.8M FSSM. The sequel held much better than many anticipated. Cume by end of Monday will be at $69.2M.
–Universal/Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day 2U was originally seen to be the biggest threat to Alita, and the sequel has fallen apart (read on). Lego Movie 2 is expected to see $66.1M in its running total by Monday.
–The Burbank lot can savor third place as well with New Line’s Isn’t It Romantic, which has $14.2M over FSS, $16.5M over FSSM, and $22.7M over 6 days. That’s slightly above Rebel Wilson’s previous New Line romantic comedy, How to Be Single, which made $22.4M over the same period of time. It’s OK for a film that cost $31M before P&A. How to Be Single ended its run at $46.8M domestic, $112.3M WW (it also had Fifty Shades of Grey‘s Dakota Johnson in it). Friday’s business of $4.1M dipped 5% from Valentine’s Day. Three-and-a-half stars on PostTrak, 50% definite recommend, and female heavy at 71%, who graded it 81% positive. Relish Mix says that the mix of stars in the pic –Priyanka Chopra, Liam Hemsworth, Wilson and Lucifer‘s Tom Ellis– are getting shout-outs on social, with Chopra the social media magnet here with her 100M followers across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The pic counts a massive social media universe for a romantic comedy at 255M, well above the genre’s 125M universe of YouTube views, FB, Twitter and Instagram followers.
–Paramount’s What Men Want strong enough in weekend 2 to kick Happy Death Day 2U in the teeth with $10.9M FSS (-40%), $12.6M FSSM and running total by Monday of $37.8M.
—Happy Death Day 2U tracking indicated that it could upset Alita, with a $17M-20M FSS and $23M-$25M over 6-days. The results are significantly less than that, with $9.8M FSS, $11.4M FSSM and a six-day of $15.1M. Despite all the rah-rah of how cheap this movie was at $9M before P&A (Uni financed the movie), this is not the over-indexing horror success we’ve come to expect from Blumhouse. The six-day here is less than that of the fourth Purge which made $33.6M and Ouija 2 which made $16.7M. Reviews at 66% fresh were less than the 71% of the first HDD. Critics were wowed by the Groundhog Day nature of the first film, and some think the sequel is more complicated in a Back to the Future 2 kind-of-way and less fun. Some close to the pic blame tracking, but c’mon — it’s a horror sequel to a film that didn’t really tap into the zeitgeist like the latest Halloween, or even Don’t Breathe a few years ago.
RelishMix noticed a couple of things here: Social media diagnostics were down, with the sequel’s SMU at 70M behind the average horror pic’s 82M. Also, viral video rate of 20:1 is behind the genre’s average of 25:1. Couple this with a “meh” reaction on social: “Horror Fans are panning its attempt at a time loop as a plot device — that is definitely a polarizing element. Also, for some who have seen the movie, they’re advising fans to have managed expectations.” If this pic follows a global B.O. trajectory like Ouija: Origin of Evil, maybe it will turn out OK in the end: That Blumhouse sequel also cost $9M and finaled WW at $81.7M and domestic at $35M.
–On the bright side for Uni, Glass is crossing the century mark with $105M-plus, the first 2019 title to do so. STXfilms’s The Upside is nearing closer to that mark with $95.4M by Monday.
–MGM’s Fighting With My Family at the Angelika, Lincoln Square, AMC Century City and Hollywood Arclight is minting $163,5K over FSSM for a strong $41K per-screen, with an A CinemaScore and 92% Rotten Tomtoes score. The pic busts wide next weekend. With previews cume nears $200K by EOD tomorrow. Producer Kevin Misher did a Q&A last night at the Century City AMC and Dwayne Johnson beamed in; we hear the crowd went nuts, natch. “Audiences and critics are falling in love with Fighting With My Family — it’s the first great movie of 2019. It was produced by Dwayne Johnson, who saw the potential of a great film when he discovered the rags-to-riches story of the WWE’s Paige and her lovable, crazy family. The brilliant writer/director Stephen Merchant and his talented cast really deliver on heart and hilarity. We’re locked and loaded for a great expansion next weekend — word-of mouth is superb” beamed Erik Lomis, head of Annapurna distribution which handles MGM’s slate.
–Bleecker Street’s Arctic from Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison in week 3 went from 15 theaters to 63 making $257K FSS, and $314K over FSSM for a cume of $503K by Monday.
WEEKEND B.O. FOR FEB 15-18
Industry estimates as of Saturday AM:
BOX OFFICE FOR FEB. 15-18