Alien meets its nemesis

…and it’s the US Box Office. Years ago one of the my favourite articles in the monthly Starburst magazine  would be Tony Crawleys annual box office charts, summarising the performance of genre films from the  year before. This was long before the internet, and it was always enlightening to see how certain films had managed at the box office. It was, of course,  no indication of quality -‘the cruelest cut of all’ was how Blade Runner‘s dismal performance was summarised; I’ll remember that line forever. Ever since, I’ve always been curious about box office, the vagaries of cinemagoers taste, critic influence and marketing issues.

So here is the sad case of Alien Covenant, which after a reasonable launch plunged in its second week at the US box office, with a 71% drop in takings. A current final tally of $71 million domestic is a pretty poor showing, and foreign return of $110 million won’t really help the film even break even on a purported $97-110 million (depending who you listen to) budget.

a1
ah, the good old days…

Its funny- the original Alien is perceived as being a huge hit and you have to allow for post-1979 inflation to really know what its then-£80 million domestic equates to in 2017 dollars, but I recall stories back then that the film never actually turned a profit for Fox (rumour  had it that creative accounting was at work to nullify people’s percentages on the profits). For curiosities sake: Aliens $85 million domestic in 1986, Alien 3 $55 million in 1992…

So does this signal another hiatus for the Alien films, despite Ridley Scott’s intention to shoot another sequel next year?

I wonder, what did the studio expect? We are living in a strange world for movies, where studios now have to dodge Marvel blockbusters and DC blockbuster-wannabes and -God help ’em- Star Wars films, and maybe the odd Fox superhero flick or Transformers movie. Where on earth Jim Camerons’ four Avatar sequels eventually fit in is beyond me. Indeed, there seem to be new blockbusters dropped every week in summer- its carnage out there (as King Arthur proved).  

Covenant was originally intended to be released later this year but was brought forward to May- unfortunately two weeks after the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 juggernaut ($336 million domestic, $461 million foreign) and just a week before the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie ($135 million domestic, $392 foreign). When you look at it like that, an R-rated movie (and belated sequel to the ill-received Prometheus) doesn’t really have much hope, does it? A telling comparison is the similarly R-rated Mad Max: Fury Road, universally acclaimed (which Covenant wasn’t) and assumed a hit, which earned $154 domestic and $224 foreign- superior by some margin but on a $154 million budget. So its hard to make out Covenant as some kind of disaster- disappointing yes, but these Alien films have long shelf-lives.

But does it kill any sequel? For all Covenant‘s faults (and I actually quite liked it) I would like to see that sequel, if only to put that Prometheus/Covenant storyline to a rest. It does seem rather doubtful at the moment. Clearly Covenant wasn’t a great film, but was its quality at fault here or rather the swamping of the box office with far too frequent blockbusters and cinemagoers always turning to the Next Thing? I have read that the Pirates of the Caribbean flick is actually deemed the more disappointing by its studio – particularly due to its $230 million budget (foreign box office saved the day for that one). So I guess all things are relative. Maybe Ridley will get one more shot after all.

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4 thoughts on “Alien meets its nemesis

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    I hope not.
    Do you think you’d be as kind to these dreadful Prometheus films if they’d been made by someone else?

    1. I have thought about that, and you are probably right. I have followed Ridley’s career since Alien in 1979 and its inevitable that I cut him some slack. I’m not a huge fan of The Martian, to be honest- it seems too contrived and formulaic.

      In the case of these last two Alien films, bear in mind I detest Aliens and cannot understand why so many adore it despite its awful logic and terrible characters (and needless/contemptable Alien Queen). In the face of that, I’m bugged (sic) by Ridley getting so much flack for his own revisionism. I will always agree that the Engineers/ Space Jockey is a dire mistake but figure these new films are an alternate universe anyway. On the whole, other than the original, all the Alien films are very flawed and the series given too much reverence by fans. In that respect, the last two are hardly anything unusual. But yes, I can’t help but hope that, given a chance, Ridley might yet vindicate himself with one more great Alien film.

      But I am glad his hands are off the new Blade Runner…

  2. I see Covenant has made it to $215 million or so now, so I guess that’ll be good enough for them to push ahead with some form of continuation for the series. That said, Prometheus took over $400 million and that led to a rethink of the franchise’s direction before Covenant, so… maybe we’ll see Blomkamp’s Alien 5 after all.

  3. Great read, man! I agree in all points. Except your appreciation of A:C. I kinda liked it myself, but only for the first hour or so. Then – just like Prometheus – the film’s falling apart, turning into something completely different, before closing in a rushed and lacklustre finale.

    But that aside… I have to admit, I kinda like seeing it bomb the way it does. Ridley Scott knows damn-well what a huge fanbase the Alien saga has and he would be better off taking a little more care about his franchise. There are once again hair-rasing errors in A:C that are unforgivable, downright ridiculous at times. He just has to foot the bill for those. Add to that his selfish killing of Neil Blomkamp’s potentious ALIENS sequel and the questionable direction he’s taking the Alien franchise and I’m somehow actually really happy to see him doing a belly landing. Maybe he finally wakes up and realizes what he’s about to destroy with these “prequels”.

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