After the disappointing “Birds of Prey” opening last week, movie theaters and studios are hoping for better returns during the Valentine’s/Presidents’ Day weekend, which will see the DC Comics movie attempt a rebound against a varied slate of new releases led by the Paramount family film “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
“Sonic” will be the No. 1 film on this 4-day weekend as both Paramount and independent trackers are projecting an extended opening total in the low $40 million range. While that would be a decent start for this $95 million-budgeted CGI/live-action hybrid, Paramount is aiming much higher than decent, and the studio likely hopes for a theatrical run strong enough to merit a sequel.
“It was a really rough 2019 for Paramount, and that’s in good part because they just don’t have enough reliable franchises,” said Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock. “If ‘Sonic’ can become popular with families and overseas audiences, it could really help them build a more consistent movie slate that won’t have as many long slumps like we saw last year.”
There was a time when it seemed like “Sonic” was headed for disaster. When the film’s first trailer was released last April ahead of a then-scheduled November release, Sonic fans, critics and even the uninitiated mocked the character’s eerily human-looking design so thoroughly that Paramount moved back the release to February to make time for a total redesign of the character. The new design turned out much closer to the character’s video game appearance, and when a second trailer was released, reception among kids and “Sonic” fans was far more positive.
That trailer was followed by one of the biggest marketing campaigns for a Paramount release in recent years, with billboards, commercials, and bus ads prominently featuring Sonic’s makeover. But the blue hedgehog wasn’t alone. The campaign has also heavily pushed Jim Carrey, who plays Sonic’s nemesis Dr. Robotnik. The past decade saw Carrey take a big step back from the slapstick roles that made him a big star in the 90s and 2000s, with the one exception being a return to one of his most famous roles with “Dumb and Dumber To” in 2014.
The Robotnik footage shown in the trailers have teased a return to the Carrey of old, which might lure in moviegoers who aren’t fans of Sonic but who grew up watching Carrey 25 years ago and are nostalgic for his brand of humor. If demographic breakdowns this weekend show a stronger than expected turnout from non-family audiences over the age of 35, that might be a reason why.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” will also release in 41 countries overseas, including in South America, Australia, and much of Europe. But China and Japan, the Asian markets where Sonic is most popular, are still to come. But even if word of mouth is positive both domestically and internationally this weekend, Paramount could see overseas numbers sag if the coronavirus crisis persists by the time “Sonic” is released in Chinese theaters on February 28.
China’s government has ordered the closure of almost every theater in the country as part of an effort to contain the virus that has as of this writing killed over 1,000 people. The lockdown began during the Lunar New Year holiday when many Chinese films come out, and those films have had their theatrical releases indefinitely postponed. Even if theaters are back in business by the time “Sonic” is supposed to be released in China, it’s quite likely that it will have to compete with an extremely jammed market filled with local fare like “Detective Chinatown 3,” reducing how much money it might make in Asia. That will be something both Paramount and analysts will have to keep in mind when it comes time to look at the overall theatrical performance and determine whether we will see a “Sonic 2” in the future.
Directed by Jeff Fowler, “Sonic the Hedgehog” follows the SEGA video game icon (voiced by Ben Schwartz) as he flees his world and arrives on Earth to hide from those who want to take his super-speed powers. But after an accidental encounter with a small-town Montana sheriff (James Marsden,) Sonic’s presence is exposed to the world, and he must team up with the cop to avoid being hunted down by the evil Dr. Robotnik. Tika Sumpter also stars in the film, which was written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller.
In addition to “Sonic,” two other wide releases will try to bring in Valentine’s Day couples looking for a date movie: the Sony/Blumhouse horror film “Fantasy Island” and the Universal romance “The Photograph.”
“Fantasy Island” is a dark take on the classic Ricardo Montalban TV series, starring Michael Peña in Montalban’s role as Mr. Roarke, the owner of a mysterious remote island that offers to make the wishes of its visitors come true. But for Roarke’s visitors, those granted wishes soon turn into nightmares, forcing them to figure out the island’s secrets if they want to make it out alive. Directed by Jeff Wadlow, the film is projected to earn a 4-day opening of around $18 million against a reported budget of $7 million. Sony is projecting a $13-15 million start.
“The Photograph” stars LaKeith Stanfield as a journalist who forms an unexpected relationship with the estranged daughter (Issa Rae) of a recently deceased photographer he is writing a story on. Lil Rel Howrey, Rob Morgan and Courtney B. Vance also star in the film, which was written and directed by Stella Meghie. The film has a reported budget of $16 million and is projected to earn a 4-day opening weekend of $12-14 million.
None of this weekend’s new releases had a critics score on Rotten Tomatoes at time of writing.