James Cameron and Robert Rodriquez's Alita: Battle Angel took the top spot at the US box office over President's Day weekend. The ambitious adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's acclaimed manga has generated $28 million for its first three days with an estimate of $43 million for the five-day weekend. For comparison, this time last year Black Panther shattered records to deliver more than $200 million.
Alita comes with a hefty $170 million budget before marketing and other expenses, so a five day opening of $43 million is cause for concern. The advertising leaned heavily into James Cameron's involvement as writer and producer, but beyond selling the spectacular effects, the trailers didn't seem to contain much in the way of plot. Late last year we saw another hopeful franchise starter based on acclaimed material produced and written by a 'visionary filmmaker' with The Mortal Engines. Even the involvement of Peter Jackson couldn't save the film from flopping at the box office. The Mortal Engines grossed just $84 million against a reported $130 million production budget.
Alita might have cost more, but it stands a better shot at building positive word of mouth as there isn't much in the way of competition until Captain Marvel arrives next month. Another positive is the international box office, currently sitting on $94 million, Alita has a running global haul of more than $130 million. James Cameron is in China ahead of its release in The Middle Kingdom at the end of the week to kick-start the various press appearances he'll be making.
Avatar netted more than $200 million from China back in 2009, even though Hollywood releases only keep 25% of the box office, a successful run in China could make all the difference. Add to that the forthcoming release in Japan (Avatar made $171 million), and Alita could still be a modest hit. The Avatar box office comparison might not be a fair one as it's the biggest movie of all time, but Cameron's popularity in China and Japan shouldn't be underestimated.
Elsewhere in the US top ten, The Lego Movie 2 continues to struggle after a less than impressive launch. After the same number of days on release, the sequel generated less than half the box office of the original.