Now that Alita: Battle Angel has been in theaters for about a month, it’s clear the film was a box office success – but only barely. After lingering in development for several years, the manga adaptation from producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez finally hit theaters this February, looking to deliver a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. It’s no secret this genre hasn’t fared particularly well in the past (Ghost in the Shell), but Alita proved to be an outlier in that regard. With stunning visual effects and a creative team with obvious love for the source material, the film was generally well-received by critics.
Despite some narrative shortcomings, the general consensus was that Alita was worth checking out on the big screen. As a result, the film exceeded box office expectations. Initially, it was thought to be a major bomb with only $23 million in its opening weekend, but it ended up grossing around $43 million over Presidents Day. That’s by no means a record-breaking figure, but it was still an impressive haul in relation to the projections. With business for Alita starting to decline in the wake of Captain Marvel, it’s time to examine the movie’s overall box office performance and what it means.
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Domestically, Alita didn’t leave much of a sizable impression. Its U.S. gross of $78.3 million is only 20.5 percent of the film’s total global total. As one can imagine, it was the international box office that propelled Alita to its status as a success. Significantly bolstered by China ($127.4 million), Alita currently stands at $382.4 million worldwide. Like the opening weekend numbers, that figure isn’t exactly jaw-dropping, but it still illustrates there was some interest in seeing Alita in theaters. There are several examples from years past of films being salvaged by a strong showing overseas, and this is just the latest instance.
Alita was budgeted for about $170 million, meaning its break even point was approximately $340 million. It’s obviously past that point, turning an extremely minor profit in the process. The margin is around $42.4 million, which admittedly isn’t anything to write home about, but proof this won’t go down as a loss for Fox. Alita is still playing in theaters and will continue to add what it can to its totals before bowing out, and then there will be the subsequent home media release to add some ancillary revenue to the bottom line. For a film that was one time pegged to be a disaster, this is a welcome turn of events.
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Fox proved to be incredibly savvy with their handling of Alita. Some might recall it was scheduled to be the studio’s big tentpole release over the 2018 holiday season, where it would have almost definitely been overshadowed by more high-profile titles like $1 billion hit Aquaman and Bumblebee. If Alita stayed in that window, the end results would not have been pretty. Instead, Fox decided to move it to the less-competitive period of February, where Alita basically ran unopposed as the main genre film in town. It arrived one month after Glass and there was still a sizable cushion before Captain Marvel premiered. The release date switch helped Alita stand out instead of getting lost in the shuffle.
Ultimately, Alita looks like it will fall into a nuanced, tricky middle ground in regards to the box office. It goes down as another win for Cameron (and people still continue to doubt him), though it’s a far more subdued one when compared to the heights of Titanic and Avatar. Since Alita was not a runaway smash, it paints a murky picture when discussing the property’s cinematic future because the final gross might not be high enough to warrant any followups. With Fox about to transition into a new era, executives will have to take a long, hard look at the numbers.
Page 2: What Alita’s Box Office Means for Possible Sequels
As stated earlier, there have been plenty of times when a film underwhelms domestically, yet still spawns a franchise thanks to the international box office. Pacific Rim is one of the more famous examples. Guillermo del Toro’s creature feature grossed $411 million worldwide against an $190 million budget and got a followup in 2018. Granted, that film, Pacific Rim Uprising, did not perform well ($290 million globally against a $150 million budget), but it still illustrates studios are willing to give a fringe series a chance if the original movie is successful enough. With China ranking as the second-largest film market, there’s incentive to develop projects audiences there might be interested in.
Unfortunately for Alita, it may not get a second opportunity to appeal to moviegoers. Though the film is in the black, it’s not like Fox saw a sizable return on their investment. Any other Alita movies will most certainly need a budget in a similar range of the original ($170+ million), so a case can be made that from a pure business perspective, it simply isn’t worth it. M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass went down as a disappointment compared to Split, but Universal should still be happy with the results because that film made $245.3 million worldwide against a budget of only $20 million. To put things in perspective, Alita cost more than Captain Marvel to make and will end up grossing considerably less. For many reasons, that’s not a straightforward apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s hard to argue why the studio should bankroll a second Alita film. Even Cameron may have difficulty with that.
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There’s also the matter of the impending Disney/Fox acquisition, which is finally cleared to be official next week. Much has been made over what the deal means for Marvel characters like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, but it impacts several other franchises too. Alita is one of them, and Disney may opt to pull the plug on it. Even if they don’t kill it right away, it’s unlikely Alita becomes a pressing priority for the Mouse House. Things would be different if it made more money, but with Disney going so far as to put the X-Force spinoff on hold until further notice, fans of Alita may have to accept that this property is one-and-done in regards to the movies. Disney simply has too much else going on with all of their other subsidiaries and they need to take time to figure out what they’re going to do with Fox and all of the other in-development projects under that umbrella.
It’s a shame, because Alita was a promising enough start for a new sci-fi franchise, introducing viewers to a strong heroine and immersive world that could have been fleshed out further in more installments. The source material is certainly rich and expansive enough to carry at least a trilogy, but that doesn’t seem like it will pass. Again, the film’s cumulative gross (while marginally successful) is to blame here because it pales in comparison to similar titles. Just because something made its money back doesn’t make it a major hit. Fox did the right thing by taking the necessary steps to ensure Alita didn’t catastrophically bomb, but everyone involved was probably hoping for a little bit more when it was all said and done.
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