Alita: Battle Angel has finished its theatrical run, and with star Rosa Salazar eager to play Alita "until her last breath," there is no shortage of enthusiasm for a follow-up. The film, which ends on a cliffhanger, seems designed to tell a larger story over the course of multiple, epic films. But for many fans, the future is in question. Alita: Battle Angel did not fail at the box office, but it wasn't a success, either. Grossing $404.9 million against a $170 million budget, the film just turned a profit after accounting for marketing costs. But did it turn enough of a profit?
While the sequel has yet to be green-lit, the question remains if we will return to Alita's 26th-century dystopia or if Zalem will remain out of reach for fans of this modern cult classic.
Did Alita Turn a Profit?
Box office grosses can be confusing for the uninitiated. You see a budget of $170 million and a worldwide gross of $404.9 million, and you ask "How could Alita: Battle Angel have been anything BUT a huge success?"
In order to measure if a film is a success or not, usually you need to consider the marketing budget (usually unlisted) and how much of the box office money is left for production studios once theaters take their cut. On top of that, international distributors will take a cut of the worldwide box office on top of what the theaters take in across the world. To account for this, a film typically needs to make double the production budget in order to turn a profit.
Alita: Battle Angel needed to gross at least $340 million. It grossed over $60 million more. That makes it a soft success.
Does Domestic Box Office Matter?
Domestically, the film only grossed $85.7 million. The majority of the money came from international box office. This, however, might not matter, because studios have been increasingly interested in appealing to a world-wide box office as opposed to solely a domestic one.
Pacific Rim floundered in the American domestic market, but did wonderfully internationally. The film had a production budget of $200 million, grossing $411 million worldwide, but only grossed $101.8 million. It got not only a sequel (Pacific Rim: Uprising), but also an animated spin-off series coming to Netflix. This is despite the fact that Pacific Rim turned its studios -- Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures -- less of a profit than Alita: Battle Angel.
This would indicate, judging by previous precedents, that Alita might have profited enough to get a sequel. However, there is a counter point: Warcraft. Like Pacific Rim, Warcraft did far better internationally than domestically. It had a budget of $160 million, and grossed $433.7 million. Domestically, it grossed $47.4 million. Estimates in the Hollywood Reporter indicate the film might have lost its studio $30 million dollars. This is because international distribution ate into their production.
Indeed, while Fox estimates indicate Alita: Battle Angel needed to gross around $350 million to turn a profit, the Hollywood Reporter predicted it might need to gross between $400-500 million.
Digital and Home Release Sales
The deciding factor might not be box office, but home media sales.
When Alita: Battle Angel hit digital and home media, an energetic fanbase, well aware of the film's box office struggles, rushed out to support the film by buying the DVDs. Their zeal will probably turn Alita into a cult classic on the home media market. Several films that struggled at the box office found their ground thanks to word of mouth and physical media sales.
To cite an example, Starship Troopers grossed $121.2 million at the box office against a $105 million production budget. It flopped. Hard. Yet the film found a cult audience on home media, which resulted in several sequels being green-lit. The same thing happened with Pacific Rim. It floundered in theaters, but found a devoted cult audience in the months following its home media release.
The Disney/Fox Merger
Beyond whether or not the film profited, a vital question is this: will Disney even want to greenlight Alita now that it owns the film's production company, 20th Century Fox?
In a recent interview with Alita star Rosa Salazar, the young actress mentioned how one huge factor, even larger than Alita's apparent success, is the Fox/Disney merger. “People are gaining jobs, people are losing jobs. The whole Disney/Fox acquisition is so involved, this isn’t the right time for me to call Alan Horn and be like, ‘Hey bro, I know you got a lotta stuff going on, but like what about Alita 2?’”
Disney has mentioned that many Fox properties are a priority for them. Alita could be the start of a new franchise that could be distributed through the new Fox. However, at the same time, Fox will be distributing fewer films every year, as, legally, Disney can only pump out so many films through all of its studios. Which Fox sci-fi property will Disney prioritize? A new Alien film or a new Alita film?
Sequels Are Planned
One big element that could play a factor is James Cameron himself. Alita remains his passion project, even if he only stood on as a producer. With him directing several Avatar sequels for Disney, there is a very real possibility that Cameron might try to throw his weight around to get the Alita films produced as well. This might be even more true if Avatar 2 is a financial success.
Cameron has already stated that he has plans to make the films into a trilogy. But will these plans come to fruition? If you want to see the planned sequels be made, it might be best to do the following: show enthusiasm. For better or worse, a lot of the online discourse surrounding Alita has been toxic. Certain individuals have co-oped the film to use as a weapon against films they don't like. Fans of the movie, sick of being associated with this element, have aggressively been trying to prove they aren't like those other fans. Because of the intense discourse, some people just are avoiding the film altogether, which could affect its chances for a sequel.
The best way to make the film become a beloved cult classic is to say you like the film, explain why you love it, and see if people watch it in turn. A positive attitude (and lining James Cameron's pockets) might help Alita 2 see the light of day.