What Does Alita's Box Office Mean for Sequels?
As stated earlier, there have been plenty of times when a film underwhelms domestically, yet still spawns a franchise thanks to the international box office. Pacific Rim is one of the more famous examples. Guillermo del Toro's creature feature grossed $411 million worldwide against an $190 million budget and got a followup in 2018. Granted, that film, Pacific Rim Uprising, did not perform well ($290 million globally against a $150 million budget), but it still illustrates studios are willing to give a fringe series a chance if the original movie is successful enough. With China ranking as the second-largest film market, there's incentive to develop projects audiences there might be interested in.
Unfortunately for Alita, it may not get a second opportunity to appeal to moviegoers. Though the film is in the black, it's not like Fox saw a sizable return on their investment. Any other Alita movies will most certainly need a budget in a similar range of the original ($170+ million), so a case can be made that from a pure business perspective, it simply isn't worth it. M. Night Shyamalan's Glass went down as a disappointment compared to Split, but Universal should still be happy with the results because that film made $245.3 million worldwide against a budget of only $20 million. To put things in perspective, Alita cost more than Captain Marvel to make and will end up grossing considerably less. For many reasons, that's not a straightforward apples-to-apples comparison, but it's hard to argue why the studio should bankroll a second Alita film. Even Cameron may have difficulty with that.
There's also the matter of the impending Disney/Fox acquisition, which is finally cleared to be official next week. Much has been made over what the deal means for Marvel characters like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, but it impacts several other franchises too. Alita is one of them, and Disney may opt to pull the plug on it. Even if they don't kill it right away, it's unlikely Alita becomes a pressing priority for the Mouse House. Things would be different if it made more money, but with Disney going so far as to put the X-Force spinoff on hold until further notice, fans of Alita may have to accept that this property is one-and-done in regards to the movies. Disney simply has too much else going on with all of their other subsidiaries and they need to take time to figure out what they're going to do with Fox and all of the other in-development projects under that umbrella.
It's a shame, because Alita was a promising enough start for a new sci-fi franchise, introducing viewers to a strong heroine and immersive world that could have been fleshed out further in more installments. The source material is certainly rich and expansive enough to carry at least a trilogy, but that doesn't seem like it will pass. Again, the film's cumulative gross (while marginally successful) is to blame here because it pales in comparison to similar titles. Just because something made its money back doesn't make it a major hit. Fox did the right thing by taking the necessary steps to ensure Alita didn't catastrophically bomb, but everyone involved was probably hoping for a little bit more when it was all said and done.