Alita: Battle Angel, the 15-year dream of producer James Cameron, finally rolls out nationwide on Friday, bringing Yukito Kishiro's popular cyberpunk manga to live-action for the first time. Known in Japan as Gunnm, but everywhere else as Battle Angel Alita, the series centers on a cyborg with no memories who's found in a scrap heap on a post-apocalyptic Earth and rebuilt by a cybernetics expert. Add a search for her past and a fast-paced sport that combines roller derby with gladiatorial games, and you can understand the appeal of the source material to Cameron, and to Hollywood.
But why was the film's title changed from the more familiar Battle Angel Alita to Alita: Battle Angel?
After all, for the vast majority of the project's development, it was publicly discussed as Battle Angel Alita; Fox even registered the domain battleangelalita.com in 2000. There was a subsequent push to drop "Alita" from the name before, by 2010, some of the filmmakers began referring to the adaptation as Alita: Battle Angel; with the announcement of Robert Rodriguez as director in 2015, that became official.
“I’m telling people that we have to call it Alita: Battle Angel, because Jim only does T&A movies,” producer Jon Landau joked in 2010. “Titanic, Aliens, Terminator, Abyss, True Lies, Avatar. So, we can’t call it Battle Angel. We have to call it Alita: Battle Angel."
Landau may have forgotten Cameron's 1982 feature directorial debut, Piranha II: The Spawning. That aside, the producer was obviously kidding.
The actual reason for the change from Battle Angel Alita to Battle Angel to, finally, Alita: Battle Angel, is pretty straightforward: to leave room for sequels.
Cameron began development with a full-fledged sci-fi franchise in mind. Keep in mind that Kishiro's original manga spans nine volumes (the movie adapts only the first two and change), and spawned two sequels, a spinoff, and a collection of short stories, so there's plenty of material to mine. The idea, Landau said in 2018, is for the Battle Angel subtitle to be swapped out in planned future installments. "If people love Alita, there will be more Alita," he said.
However, Cameron, who's no stranger to sequels, recognizes the folly of putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
"Well, we obviously have a plan for [a sequel]," Cameron said at a recent press event for Alita. "But it's cheeky to set up a sequel before you're proven. That can blow back in your face. We think of something like Warcraft that was clearly set up with the intention to do sequels, and then it becomes mock-able because the film doesn't succeed. But I don't worry about stuff like that. If the film fails, it's its own punishment, you know? It doesn't matter if we get mocked on top of having failed."
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 opens Friday nationwide.