Although a disappointment at the domestic box office, and not exactly a critical darling, Robert Rodriguez's Alita: Battle Angel may yet have a shot at a sequel due to its commercial performance overseas. Indeed, if the long-in-development manga adaptation becomes the franchise producer James Cameron envisioned, it will be due in large part to its popularity in China.
Alita earned $62.3 million in its opening weekend in China, breaking records for Fox and IMAX in the world's second-largest film market. While it's expected to experience a significant drop this weekend, the cyberpunk action film is expected to gross $113 million there in its first 10 days of release there on the way to a $130 million total.
The film has already raked in $222.2 million overseas, in contrast to its performance in the United States, where it led the worst domestic box office for Presidents Day weekend in 15 years. With a reported production budget of $170 million, Alita has grossed $64.3 million in its two weeks of domestic release, just a little more than the three-day opening in China. Coupled with a lukewarm critics' score of 60 percent on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, this would be considered a certified flop for a big-budget Hollywood film -- if we were only taking into account its U.S. box office.
However, it's not as cut and dried as that. Forbes predicts Alita could end its theatrical run with a combined $215 million from North America and China, with other international markets potentially pushing the film into the $400 million (earlier expectations of $500 million diminished with the lower second-weekend projections in China). That may not be a blockbuster with a capital "B," but it's not exactly a flop either.
And it could very well be enough for a sequel to receive a green light.
We need look no further than 2013's Pacific Rim for a Hollywood tentpole that overcame a disappointing domestic box office -- $101.8 million on a production budget of $180 million -- to score a sequel because of its reception in China. That kaiju movie grossed $114.3 million in China alone, convincing Legendary Pictures to gamble on a follow-up, Pacific Rim Uprising.
It's only been in the past five to seven years that China beaome a major market for Hollywood, as the nation has relaxed restrictions on the number of foreign releases and the content that can be shown under its tight censorship policies. Largely led by Transformers, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Fast and the Furious, Hollywood has changed much of its strategy to broaden its appeal to Chinese audiences, a trend that has continued with recent successes by Venom and Aquaman.
While a commercial and critical disappointment domestically, Alita: Battle Angel has connected with audiences overseas, predominantly in China. If the manga adaptation can continue commercial momentum, the hopes of the film's producers for a sequel could become a reality, almost entirely due to China.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor and Eiza González. The film is in theaters now.