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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Death Rumors Were Exaggerated, but 2019 Box-Office Struggle is Real

Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron's new film could still break even, but 2019 will need to reverse some disturbing trends to do the same.

“Alita: Battle Angel”

In what could be the final release from 20th Century Fox before it becomes subsumed by Disney, “Alita: Battle Angel” was clearly the No. 1 film this weekend. It performed better than expected, with $41.7 million anticipated for the four-day weekend.

“Alita” bested the second weekend of “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” and two films that opened Wednesday, “Isn’t It Romantic” and “Happy Death Day 2U.” Along with “What Men Want,” also in its second week, they also represent the state of business at the moment — and the industry has much bigger concerns than which categories are shown live at next Sunday’s Oscars.

This will be a rock-bottom Presidents’ Day Weekend, with ticket sales down at least a third; in comparison to some years, it’s only half. One of those years was 2018, when “Black Panther” led to 31 million tickets sold. That was an extreme case, but the drop to 13 million this year is chilling, since three viable films did open (“Panther” was joined only by the minor animated “Early Man” in 2018).

This could be the nadir, with major releases en route like “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: Endgame.” Still, it has put this year into a hole, and it suggests that films drawing less than comparable predecessors is a genuine trend.

“Alita: Battle Angel”

Fox

“Alita” is the first major feature release from James Cameron (as a writer and producer, but not director – Robert Rodriguez helmed the film) since “Avatar.” The adaptation of the popular manga is titanic in budget (conservatively reported at $170 million). That’s what makes it take so far an issue.

International returns so far — $94 million in initial countries, China and Japan ahead — shows interest parallel to domestic. However, worldwide gross needs to pass at least $500 million for a profit. To do that, the two big foreign markets still to come will need to do around $200 million. That’s a tall order.

The more discouraging element is while critical response was less than scathing, and it received a decent A- Cinemascore, people still didn’t show in sufficient numbers.

Rebel Wilson, "Isn't It Romantic?"

“Isn’t It Romantic”

Warner Bros.

The Rebel Wilson/Liam Hemsworth comedy “Isn’t It Romantic” earned a routine $14 million, making this $31 million film yet another mixed bag. With its date-night appeal receding, it could still get to around $40 million domestic.

Warners sold this film to Netflix for the world outside North America for showings starting on February 28 (while it continues in theaters here, with normal windows and later home viewing alternatives). That likely will cover the studio’s expenses, but as another so-so domestic title, it’s more bearish news for theaters. (STX title “The Upside” has a similar Amazon deal.)

Happy Death Day 2U

“Happy Death Day 2U”

Blumhouse/Universal Pictures

“Happy Death Day 2U,” Universal’s latest release from the prolific Blumhouse, was counterprogramming that failed to impress. This sequel managed in five days to only do about half the business as the 2017 original. The minor budget doubled ($9 million this time); even with marketing, the producer still knows how to find the road to profit with foreign and later revenues. But again, this falls short of the bread-and-butter successes theaters once found so reliable.

Last weekend’s disappointment, “The LEGO Movie 2,” dropped 38 percent, even with the holiday-weekend boost. The initial “LEGO” film dropped only 28 percent five years ago, also on a holiday weekend. It grossed over $50 million then, compared to just above $21 million this time. And the beat goes on.

“What Men Want” fell 40 percent, to beat out “Happy Death Day” for fourth place. Again, its $20 million budget should keep Paramount whole. But its $11 million gross is, at best, only a modest help in the overall picture.

The other second-week titles — “Cold Pursuit” and “The Prodigy” — kept their drops under 50 percent. But both started from weak positions and don’t look like they will sustain much longer runs.

The standouts again among holdovers remain “The Upside” and “Green Book.” The former is closing in on $100 million domestic, while the latter awaits some expected level of Oscar success next weekend (although, at 14 weeks of play, it is due for digital home availability this week, with the DVD held back until March 5.)

The Top 10

1. Alita: Battle Angel (20th Century Fox) – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 54; Est. budget: $170 million

$27,800,000 in 3,790 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $7,335; Cumulative: $36,516,000

2. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (Warner Bros.) – Week 2; Last weekend #1

$21,215,000 (-38%) in 4,303 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,930; Cumulative: $62,690,000

3. Isn’t It Romantic (Warner Bros.) – Cinemascore: (not announced); Metacritic: 60; Est. budget: $31 million

$14,210,000 in 3,444 theaters; PTA: $4,126; Cumulative: $20,455,000

4. What Men Want (Paramount) – Week 2; Last weekend #2

$10,920,000 (-40%) in 2,912 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,750; Cumulative: $36,150,000

5. Happy Death Day 2U (Universal) – Cinemascore: (not announced); Metacritic: 56; Est. budget: $9 million

$9,816,000 in 3,207 theaters; PTA: $3,061; Cumulative: $13,528,000

6. Cold Pursuit (Lionsgate) – Week 2; Last weekend #3

$6,000,000 (-46%) in 2,630 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,281; Cumulative: $21,122,000

7. The Upside (STX) – Week 6; Last weekend #4

$5,590,000 (-21%) in 2,781 theaters (-591); PTA: $2,010; Cumulative: $94,197,000

8. Glass (Universal) – Week 5; Last weekend #5

$3,859,000 (-38%) in 2,449 theaters (-805); PTA: $2,449; Cumulative: $104,490,000

9. The Prodigy (Orion) – Week 2; Last weekend #6

$3,150,000 (-46%) in 2,530 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,245; Cumulative: $11,016,000

10. Green Book (Universal) – Week 14; Last weekend #7

$2,751,000 (-20%) in 1,618 theaters (-531); PTA: $1,700; Cumulative: $65,756,000

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