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Dear readers, we’ve arrived at a crucial point in the story of Alita: Battle Angel and its quest for cinematic glory in the eyes of those who doubt it. This past weekend saw director Robert Rodriguez’s film back on the big screen, just as the fans had demanded, in a year where theatrical distribution has been a mix of lower profile debuts and various legacy bring-backs.
With Monday morning staring us in the face, the estimated results of those first three days (plus a Thursday preview, in some areas) are now in our hands. To be totally honest and fair, this news is both a victory and a loss for the 2019 cult favorite’s public image; but it’s not enough to lose hope completely. Let’s take a look at both the good and the bad, as we dig into where Alita: Battle Angel could go in the future.
The Key Alita: Battle Angel Re-Release Numbers To Discuss
Before we go too hard into the analysis, let’s take a look at what we were working with this past weekend. As of the time of this writing, the box office numbers for Alita: Battle Angel’s return to screens saw an estimated opening weekend gross of $128,000. This came from the 1,060 screens the film ran on, with ticket prices running at varying, but reduced, rates. Taking AMC Theatres’ as an example, tickets for Alita: Battle Angel were running at $5 for a conventional screening and $8 for an IMAX screening, before local taxes. When all was said and done, Alita: Battle Angel sat just outside of the top 10 at #11, despite placing in 9th place on Friday and 10th place on both Saturday and Sunday. As I firmly believe we need to talk out the bad news before the good, let’s start with why the re-release campaign was a loss.
Why Alita: Battle Angel’s Re-Release Was A Loss
From the beginning, it was known that Alita: Battle Angel’s re-release was going to be a severely limited affair. With the huge push to bring Doc Ido’s cybergirl back to theaters already being a pretty much domestic box office event, the worldwide audience that wanted their own chance to either discover or relive the magic of the film in theaters was sadly left wanting. Also, Regal Cinemas was one of the earliest chains to pledge assistance, but unfortunately shut its doors before the weekend had arrived, which was another blow to the cause was sustained.
However, there’s something to be said about the timing of Alita: Battle Angel’s re-release campaign, as Halloween weekend is almost always a killer for most new, non-horror films. Not to mention, much like releasing a Christmas movie during the holiday season is a good ticket to some sort of groundswell of support from audiences, new horror films like Come Play and legacy favorites like Hocus Pocus were always positioned to do well at the box office.
Between the limited scope and the window of time Disney chose to bring Alita: Battle Angel back, the film competed against both old and new corporate siblings, as well as other newer products, in an already scattered theatrical landscape. However, it’s not all bad news, as even in unprecedented times, there are some positive factors to consider. Here’s why Alita’s return was a victory for the Alita Army and anyone who has even a passing interest in this franchise.
Why Alita: Battle Angel’s Re-Release Was A Victory
It has to be said that just by being re-released, Alita: Battle Angel scored itself a pretty sweet victory. In the midst of re-running The Nightmare Before Christmas, Monsters Inc. and, as mentioned, Hocus Pocus, Disney gave some of its bandwidth to a 20th Century Fox acquisition, all in the name of the fans. While you can debate the timing, scope and even reaction to the event itself, the fact that what could have been treated as a mere library title was given any sort of roll-out at all was pretty fantastic. So right there, Disney's paying more attention to Alita, her fandom and her fortunes than most would have even admitted.
Also, while 11th place is not an ideal placement for Alita: Battle Angel’s big return to theaters, it’s still pretty impressive considering the lack of official advertising. While there was some social media presence, the main thrust of that strategy came from both theater companies running the film, and creatives like Robert Rodriguez, Jon Landau and James Cameron. The studio did some internet promotion, for sure, but you could pretty much tell there wasn’t going to be any huge red carpet ad campaign that involved TV spots or huge internet advertising. If The Empty Man, a new release from Disney, couldn’t get that treatment, there was no way Alita: Battle Angel was going to have the big guns behind it; which led to fans taking it upon themselves to do what they could.
Yet despite no major ad push, in a release window that was less opportune than it could have been, and with the movie currently available through several home viewing options, Alita: Battle Angel still managed to rise to an 11th place showing. For a movie that most people wrote off when it was doing modestly well in 2019 to come back in 2020, during a pandemic, and pull off that sort of showing is still pretty impressive. It’s not a silver bullet of praise, nor is it a true indicator of just how much the film's profile may have grown, but it is a sign that people are still keeping Alita: Battle Angel in the conversation. That alone should lead to some further discussion as to what the next steps should be in the halls of Disney.
What Have We Learned From Alita: Battle Angel’s Re-Release?
So what have we learned from the Alita: Battle Angel re-release? First, and foremost, the pandemic is still affecting movie theaters, and despite there being few new films released into multiplexes, there’s still a healthy market for new material. The only problem is that a culture fixated on first weekend grosses from a pre-pandemic world is going to see an opening such as this as a failure. But again, without major promotion and no seasonal ties, this cinematic re-run brought itself up to 11th place in 2020.
That leads to the next lesson of Alita: Battle Angel’s theatrical return: the film should be kept in theaters for a longer window over time. Much like any of the new releases on the market right now, it’s proving to be more of a long term fame rather than a quick and fast pre-pandemic blood sport. While Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron’s cyberpunk adaptation is going to run in theaters through the rest of this week, at the very least, Disney should think about keeping Alita: Battle Angel in domestic theaters for a couple more weeks. At the very least, until its new crop of films like Free Guy and Death on the Nile arrive in theaters in December.
But perhaps the greatest takeaway from Alita: Battle Angel’s re-release is that the results may have been a more traditionally pleasing success were there an international re-release campaign to match that of the domestic picture. If there was a more worldwide theatrical push once theaters in certain markets can open back up safely, you might be able to see the very market that helped the battle angel perform as well as she did the first time, providing a strong second wind under her wings.
The largest lesson learned today, in the wake of the seemingly low turnout for Alita: Battle Angel’s box office turnout, is that the Alita Army fandom will always be there for this movie. Even those who just discovered the film through this second chance theatrical run have been known to join the ranks of those who fell for the movie the first time out. As with any dedicated fanbase, the numbers were never the point. If there was a pre-set goal to hit in order to make Alita: Fallen Angel a reality, you know there would have been a push for a specific target.
But in the absence of that, or any other tangible statement that said this could have led to victory in the form of a sequel, all the Alita Army could have done was their best. Nothing was left on the field, and no matter what, there will always be an ever expanding market of loyalists who will lift this movie up in the face of adversity. The accountants can keep their numbers, because the fans got to see Alita: Battle Angel on the big screen again; and that was as sweet as anyone could have expected.
Alita: Battle Angel is still in limited theatrical release right now, so if you remain on the fence about going to partake in that experience, there’s still some time left. Though it’s not certain if the theatrical run will end after this week is over, so be sure to not only be safe, but check your local listings carefully. Though if you don’t feel safe enough to head out to your local theater, Alita: Battle Angel is, of course, still available on physical and digital platforms for rental or purchase; and Cinemax/MaxGo have the film’s cable and streaming rights for the moment as well.