Warner Bros. has been on a hot streak lately, dominating the summer with “Wonder Woman” and “Dunkirk” and pushing the box office out of an August slump with the record-breaking “It.” Now it’s taking a roll of the dice with “Blade Runner 2049,” putting a $150 million budget and an extensive marketing campaign behind a sequel to a sci-fi classic that came out 35 years ago.
On its face, this is quite the roll of the dice for WB to put so much into a “Blade Runner” sequel, considering that the first film wasn’t that much of a box office hit back in 1982. Released at a time when audiences preferred their sci-fi to be broader and action-filled with films like “E.T.” and “Star Wars,” “Blade Runner” was a dark, challenging, and very deliberate dystopian odyssey that many moviegoers kept away from. The film made just $27.5 million in its initial theatrical run.
How did other 1982 sci-fi films do? “E.T.” ruled the roost with $359 million. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” made $78 million. Even “Tron,” another film that earned cult status after its first release, made more than “Blade Runner” with $33 million.
But since then, “Blade Runner” has become one of the most influential films of its genre, and Warner Bros. is hoping that it will hook not only the original’s hardcore fans, but younger audiences who, even if they haven’t seen the original, are intrigued by the film’s pedigree and its unique visuals.
Such was the case just two years ago, when WB released “Mad Max: Fury Road,” another long-gestating sequel with a $150 million price tag. The film opened to $45.4 million and went on to gross $372 million worldwide.
While that’s certainly not much of a profit for George Miller’s hit — “It,” by comparison, is nearing $600 million worldwide against a $35 million budget — “Fury Road” did go on to earn six Oscars and a Best Picture nomination, which boosted its post-theatrical revenue. With “Wonder Woman” and “It” already bringing in the bucks for WB and with “Justice League” waiting in the wings, “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t necessarily need to bring in tentpole profit and could have long-term interest if it becomes an awards contender
So far, signs are pointing to a solid opening for “2049” that could be well above “Fury Road.” MovieTickets.com has reported that advance ticket sales for the film on their site are triple what was registered for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which opened to $72 million in 2014. Fandango, meanwhile, reports that “2049” ticket sales on their site are outpacing that of “The Martian,” which opened to $54 million in 2015. Of course, while advance ticket sales are not an exact way of estimating opening potential, it shows strong opening interest.
“For a certain generation of film buffs, seeing ‘Blade Runner’ in theaters was a defining moment,” said comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian. “And now this sequel has Ridley Scott’s name on it as producer, with Villeneuve directing after getting sci-fi-fi fans’ attention with ‘Arrival.’ And for younger audiences who might not have seen “Blade Runner,” Ryan Gosling could be a draw as well after his turn in ‘La La Land.'”
What remains to be seen, however, is whether “2049” can grab interest among casual moviegoers to keep up numbers through the rest of October, or if there will be a steep drop-off after fans of Gosling and “Runner” have seen the film on opening weekend.
The latter was the case for Ridley Scott’s other 2017 film, “Alien: Covenant,” which made almost half of its $74 million domestic gross on opening weekend, when it made $36.1 million. The following weekend, it dropped 70 percent to $10 million. Aside from hardcore “Alien” fans, there was no interest in seeing Scott make his return to his signature sci-fi franchise.
Similarly, while “2049” has heavy name recognition and intriguing visuals like “Fury Road” did, it is not by any means a high-octane action flick. Reviews for the film, while very positive, have noted that the film can be very enigmatic and takes it time exploring its films, something that is clear given its 163 min. run time. While that complexity is exactly why “Blade Runner” has so many fans, it remains to be seen whether casual moviegoers in later weekends will be game for a cerebral piece or whether they will go for popcorn flicks like “Happy Death Day” instead.
“It’s always hard for an R-Rated, hard sci-fi film to have legs at the box office,” said Exhibitor Relations’ Jeff Bock. “Most of them have a limited scope.”