Alien Spawns Dollars by Being the Anti-'Star Wars'

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Opening weekend for 'Alien: Covenant' in the U.S. wasn't a blockbuster, but it didn't have to be: Domestic ticket sales already equal 37% of costs.
Opening weekend for 'Alien: Covenant' in the U.S. wasn't a blockbuster, but it didn't have to be: Domestic ticket sales already equal 37% of costs. Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

The new "Alien" iteration is pretty good, critics say. And in the theaters, it's doing just fine.

In the hellscape that is Hollywood finance, this is what qualifies as a fairly happy ending these days, particularly when you're talking about the seventh installment of a franchise. "King Arthur" it's not.

The seminal "Alien," the 1979 version, was a powerful piece of entertainment. It won a cult following and almost eight times its production budget with a masterpiece of intergalactic horror. It was "kind of an anti-'Star Wars' movie that took audiences on a very dark, very violent, R-rated thrill ride," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at The 1986 sequel did similar business, but the trend-line for later sequels has been less than stellar.

In dusting off the Alien vehicle one more time, however, 20th Century Fox made a number of smart decisions. First, it brought back director Ridley Scott, renowned for his blockbuster prowess and architect of the original 1979 story. Second, the studio went back to the original naming convention and embraced the gore and violence (read: R-rating). Third, and perhaps most critically, it kept expenses in check. It didn't, in short, do the full "Star Wars."

Excluding marketing costs, the budget for "Alien: Covenant" stayed just shy of the nine-figure mark, less than half the price of each of the recent "Star Wars" chapters and far less than Prometheus, the 2012 "Alien" saga installment. The new film's debut in U.S. theaters this past weekend wasn't a blockbuster by any standards, but it likely didn't have to be: Domestic ticket sales equaled 37% of costs.

Assuming Fox was equally prudent with its promotion dollars -- leaning heavily on social media -- the mission into the black shouldn't be a stretch. "With a great cast, a solid marketing campaign, and a great release date that positions it ahead of the Memorial weekend onslaught, the film should have a successful run," Degarabedian said.

Throw in a good showing abroad, and there's probably enough to support another "Alien" followup from Fox. In the meantime, there are action figures and (crocheted) backpacks to sell.

-- Bloomberg News

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