Alita: Battle Angel is 2019's first big-budget tentpole release, but just how much did it cost to make? After lingering in development hell for a number of years, the manga adaptation is finally set to hit the big screen, from a high-profile creative team including director Robert Rodriguez and producer James Cameron. It's being billed as a must-see 3D cinematic event, with marketing putting an emphasis on its spectacle and visual effects.
Fox clearly has high aspirations for the film, seeing that they spent the money to give Alita a Super Bowl TV spot during the home stretch of promotion. Though things are about to get a little complicated as the Disney/Fox acquisition gets closer to becoming a reality, the hope here is that Alita will be successful enough to warrant followups and spawn a new franchise. In order to do that, it's obviously going to need to turn a profit at the box office. Looking at production costs for the movie, that may prove difficult to pull off.
As one might expect with someone like Cameron pulling the strings, Alita was not a cheap endeavor. Its budget falls anywhere between $150 - 200 million, putting it in the same ballpark as Cameron's Oscar-winning epic, Titanic. Alita even approaches Avatar territory, as that Cameron vehicle cost a cool $237 million to make.
There's no denying this is a risky investment. Going by the general rule of thumb, Alita will need to make $400 million worldwide at most in order to just break even. If the actual budget falls towards the lower end of the reported spectrum, it still has to make $300 million, and there's no guarantee of that happening. Alita is not a property with substantial cultural clout, and the promotional campaign is not doing a good job of selling general audiences on the film. Early box office projections have it pegged to gross just $25 million in its opening frame, which would be disastrous for the studio. Fox is going to have to rely heavily on the international markets if Alita is to be profitable. There are multiple examples of films being saved by the overseas box office, so this isn't a farfetched hope right now.
As unwise as it is to bet against Cameron (even if he's only producing in this instance), one has to wonder if Fox would have been better-served trying to keep the budget in check so Alita didn't have to earn so much just to make its money back. It's true there isn't much playing in theaters right now (and The LEGO Movie 2 underwhelmed in its opening last week), but Alita may not have enough to stand out. The reviews are mostly positive, but hardly glowing, hurting the commercial prospects. Fox may ultimately have to take a loss on this one, ending their pre-Disney era on a low note.
- Alita Battle Angel (2019) release date: Feb 14, 2019