Box Office: ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Struggles Heading Into Crowded Holiday Weekend

Happy Death Day 2U Isn't It
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Warner Bros./Universal

It could be anybody’s game this weekend at the domestic box office.

A trio of new releases — Fox’s “Alita: Battle Angel,” Universal’s “Happy Death Day 2U,” and Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Isn’t It Romantic” — will be vying for box office glory. All three are getting a head start on a busy holiday frame, with each expecting a debut in the low-$20 millions over the long Presidents Day weekend. Unless one of the newcomers becomes a surprise hit, it’ll be a close race for the top prize.

Fox’s sci-fi adventure “Alita: Battle Angel” has the most to gain, or lose, this weekend. The PG-13 cyberpunk action film is opening on Thursday and should earn $22 million over the weekend and $30 million during its first five days of release. That would be a respectable start for many films, but it’s disastrous for “Alita,” a CGI spectacle with a price tag upward of $170 million. The studio seemingly spared no expenses for producer James Cameron’s lavish take on a manga series, but reviews were mixed. Variety’s Guy Lodge praised the special effects, but said the film is “weighed down by a protracted, soul-challenged Frankenstory that short-circuits every time it gets moving.” It carries a mediocre 59% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fox originally planned to debut the movie in December, but opted to avoid competition from a Christmas pileup that included the likes of “Aquaman,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” and “Bumblebee.” That was probably a smart move, considering just before “Alita” was supposed to open, another sci-fi epic, Universal’s “Mortal Engines,” flopped in spectacular fashion, while the Atlantean king, magical nanny, and tricked out Volkswagen Beetle all stuck the landing at the domestic box office. The studio is hoping “Alita’s” new release will be more hospitable. The holiday could help as it is targeted to younger audiences, who will be out of school over the long weekend.

Rosa Salazar stars as the titular heroine who attempts to uncover her mysterious past, while Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, and Mahershala Ali round out the supporting cast. Even if “Alita” doesn’t become a breakout hit in North America, foreign markets could prove to be the cyborg’s saving grace. The movie had a solid start overseas last weekend, where it earned $32 million from 11 international territories. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, “Alita: Battle Angel” is based on a popular Japanese manga, so it’s no surprise the film is resonating in Asia. It launched in South Korea with $10.9 million and Taiwan with $4.7 million. The movie hits all major overseas markets, aside from Japan and China, this weekend.

For those looking to get in on the Valentine’s Day spirit, Universal and Blumhouse are releasing the slasher film “Happy Death Day 2U” on 3,000 screens this Wednesday. The sequel to 2017’s “Happy Death Day” is expected to earn $20 million during the weekend and $30 million over its first six days of release. That would be a healthy bow for the low-budget horror pic, but it’s down slightly from the first film, which generated $26 million and went on to pocket $125 million worldwide. Blumhouse spent more to make the sequel compared to the original, but its $9 million price tag is a fraction of the cost of “Alita: Battle Angel.”

The follow-up reunites Jessica Rothe and director Christopher Landon with horror maven Jason Blum. Rothe’s character once again finds herself reliving the same day on a loop after being murdered by a masked killer. This time around, her friends are also targets.

Warner Bros. and New Line are also joining the fun on Wednesday, taking its satirical flick “Isn’t It Romantic” starring Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth to 3,700 locations. The romantic comedy about a woman (Wilson) whose life begins to play out like a romantic comedy (a PG-13 one at that, to make matters worse) after getting hit in the head, is expected to make $14 million over the three-day frame and $22 million during the long weekend. Todd Strauss-Schulson directed the movie, which also features Adam DeVine and Priyanka Chopra.

Among holdovers, last weekend’s champ “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” is hoping to pick up steam among the family crowd over the holiday frame. The animated sequel fell short of expectations, earning $34 million during its first three days of release. It could add another $20 million to $25 million in its second week of release, if it sees a similar decline to past installments in the “Lego” franchise.

On the specialty front, MGM is releasing “Fighting With My Family” in four locations. The biographical sports drama based on a WWE documentary will expand nationwide next weekend. Directed by Stephen Merchant, it follows the rise of the British professional wrestler Paige (Florence Pugh). Dwayne Johnson executive produced and also appears in the movie.

So far, the box office has struggled to match 2018’s record year. After seeing more than a month straight of declining ticket sales, the exhibition industry is in need of a major boost. While this weekend won’t hold a candle to the same frame last year that saw Marvel’s “Black Panther” shatter records, Hollywood is instead counting on a handful of titles to entice moviegoers and inject a little life back into theaters.

“If variety is the spice of life, then hopefully a diverse selection of movies will ignite some sort of box office spark from audiences,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a media analyst with Comscore. “Comps to last year will be naturally tough since the juggernaut that was ‘Black Panther’ set the box office world on fire with its monumental debut.”

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