The Coming Weeks
After a lackluster opening compared to industry expectations, what's next for Blade Runner 2049's box office prospects? In the run-up to release, 2049 was often compared to long-awaited R-rated sequels like Prometheus and Mad Max: Fury Road, as well as Ridley Scott's The Martian, which opened on the first weekend of October back in 2015. For a worst-case scenario, we're also going to throw Ridley Scott's financially disappointing Alien: Covenant into the mix.
The opening weekend can be a good indicator of where a movie will end up, but there's always more variables to consider, like word-of-mouth, release season, and competition. Prometheus and The Martian both opened with around $50 million ($51 and $54, respectively), but Prometheus ended its run with $126 million at the domestic box office, while The Martian managed to reach loftier heights, ultimately landing at an impressive $228 million, more than quadrupling its opening weekend. It's a sure bet that the Blade Runner 2049 team are hoping their movie plays more like The Martian, or Mad Max: Fury Road ($45.4 mil opening, $154 mil total), than something like Prometheus or Alien: Covenant, a film which only just barely doubled its own lackluster opening weekend.
That the film has been given multitudes of positive reviews will surely help Blade Runner in the weeks and months to come, but, even with a 4X multiplier, 2049 will still only end up at around $131 million domestic. While it's too early to say if the film will end up playing that well (or even better), there's also the genuine possibility that it simply doesn't catch on with general audiences, in which case reaching even $100 million will be an uphill battle.
How Much Money Does Blade Runner Need To Make?
Blade Runner 2049 carried a budget of at least $150 million, not including marketing. There's an old myth which says if a film makes twice that amount worldwide, then it's profitable, but the truth is rougher than that wistful desire.
In the United States, studios only take home about half of what a movie makes in the theaters, and their cut is even smaller in the international market, especially China, where their margin can slip down to a meager 25%. Plus, the bigger a movie's budget is, then the bigger its marketing budget tends to be, to the point where it's been said that films like Spectre and Men in Black 3 needed to make upwards of $650 million just to break even.
That old myth should be amended to, "If a movie makes twice its budget domestically, then the international marketplace can pick up the slack and the movie can turn a profit." Blade Runner's budget, while quite large, is comparably modest in comparison to movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($250 mil each), but it still has an uphill battle towards profitability. It all depends on what territories make more money, but a reasonable gambler would say 2049 needs around $450 million worldwide before it can consider itself a box office success. The film had a strong opening overseas, to the tune of $50 million, but it remains to be seen how the worldwide box office story will ultimately play out.
Of course, there is also more to be considered with regards to a movie's financial impact, from television and streaming rights to DVD and Blu Ray sales, to merchandising and more, but that's beyond the interest of this story, as well as most investors, stockholders, and other bookkeepers.
The Film As It Needed To Be Made
For director Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 was a labor of love, a passion project like nothing else in his career to date. He chose to make the film for himself, for the art, and for movie-making itself. Does that alienate some segments of the population? Would Warner Bros. (and Sony) have made more money if they forced Villeneuve to trim down the running time, reign in the violent and sexual content to lock in a PG-13 rating, and brighten up the "doom and gloom" aesthetic of the setting? Maybe. It's impossible to know for sure, but consider this: a marketable picture might play well on opening weekend, but a truly masterful work of art has greater potential to have long legs at the box office, and on home video, and in the public consciousness for generations to come.