‘Alita: Battle Angel’ on Track to Become Fox’s Final Release – and a $200 Million Flop

Two weeks from U.S. release, Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron’s blockbuster is expected to open to less than $25 million

Alita Battle Angel
20th Century Fox

Fox may need to rely on Oscar victories for “Bohemian Rhapsody” if it’s looking for good news prior to their Disney merger, because what may be its last release as a stand-alone studio is on course to become a big bomb unless it gets an overseas bailout.

Two weeks away from its Feb. 14 U.S. release, “Alita: Battle Angel” is estimated by independent trackers to post a five-day opening of no more than $25 million against a production budget that has been reported to be between $150 million and $200 million. Analysts have told TheWrap they estimate the James Cameron-written/Robert Rodriguez-directed film will have a final domestic total of $45-50 million.

But Boxoffice.com analyst Daniel Loria tells TheWrap that low figure is a significant improvement over what had been projected when the film was originally slated to be released at Christmas against “Aquaman,” which has grossed nearly $1.1 billion worldwide.

“It’s not looking great, but by moving it to Valentine’s Day, they gave the film a bit more runway to make some money against ‘The Lego Movie 2’ and ‘How to Train Your Dragon 3,’ which aren’t direct competition,” he said.

“Alita” is by far the most expensive project in Rodriguez’s directing career, as he’s known for mid-budget genre pics, with his priciest project being his $67 million “Grindhouse” collab with Quentin Tarantino in 2007. But “Alita” has the support of blockbuster maven Cameron, who is also producing the film through his Lightstorm Entertainment banner, along with Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios, TSG Entertainment and Fox.

“Alita” has been a passion project for Cameron, who first announced his plans to adapt Yukito Kishiro’s cyberpunk manga back in 2003 when the “Matrix” trilogy had pushed cyberpunk to unprecedented mainstream popularity. But the project was sidelined as Cameron went on to make the box office record-breaking “Avatar” and wasn’t revisited until 2016, when Rodriguez came aboard.

Several big-budget cyberpunk dystopian films have failed to make much at the box office. Most notable was Paramount’s $110 million adaptation of the ’90s anime film “Ghost in the Shell” in 2017. Panned by critics, the film only made $40 million domestically and $169 million worldwide, becoming one of the year’s biggest busts.

Cyberpunk films that earned strong reviews haven’t done much better. Eight months after “Ghost in the Shell,” Warner Bros. released “Blade Runner 2049,” a sequel to Ridley’s Scott’s sci-fi classic with Scott returning as executive producer and Harrison Ford returning to star alongside Ryan Gosling. Despite the strong reviews and marquee stars, the $150 million film only made $259 million worldwide and failed to cross the $100 million domestic mark.

And so far, it’s not looking like “Alita” will enjoy the critical response “2049” got. With 16 early reviews logged, the film currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 31 percent. Rodriguez has earned praise for his direction and for the film’s thrilling CGI action scenes, but the script co-written by Cameron was given a thumbs down.

Whether or not “Alita: Battle Angel” will be able to break even will be determined a week after its domestic release, as it is set to come out in China and Japan on Feb. 22. “Alita” is more well-known in Asia than it is in the U.S., so there’s a possibility that the film might surprise overseas. But to do so, it will have to gain a foothold against over a dozen Chinese films that will be in their third week of release after coming out for the Lunar New Year festivities on Feb. 5.

“The last weekend of February will give us the full picture of how ‘Alita’ is going to do internationally,” Loria said. “But you never want to be in a position where you need China to find success. Sometimes there’s a film like ‘Warcraft’ that does end up becoming a big success just because of China, but it’s always such a hard market to predict.”

In all, Fox looks like it will be going out with a whimper rather than a bang at the box office. The studio closed 2018 on a high note, as “Bohemian Rhapsody” has grossed $819 million worldwide, ranking seventh among all 2018 releases. Last week, the film earned five Oscar nominations to go with its two Golden Globe wins, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Rami Malek.

But last weekend, Fox released the family film “The Kid Who Would Be King” which, despite strong critical reviews, is bombing with a $7.5 million opening against a $59 million budget.

With the Disney merger expected to complete by the end of March, “Kid” and “Alita” will likely be the final two films released in the 84-year history of 20th Century Fox, and it’s looking like they will both be costly misfires.