If you saw "Alien: Covenant" this weekend, you probably have a lot of questions. Some involve plot holes big enough to pilot the Covenant colony spaceship through, and some involve whether or not you'll ever be able to get the image of Michael Fassbender kissing Michael Fassbender out of your head. (Or if you even want to.)
This column can't answer any of those -- sorry -- but it can answer those regarding the movie's razor-thin victory over "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" at the box office. The latest "Alien" prequel claimed an estimated $36.0 million debut, keeping "Guardians" from a three-peat at No. 1 by a margin of less than $1 million.
Going into the weekend, "Alien's" projections were near $40 million, but a Friday to Saturday dip crushed those hopes. Still, what does this photo finish mean for the franchise, its director and stars, its studio, and a summer movie season that has hobbled out of the gate? Let's break it down.
"Guardians" is holding up very well after three weeks; it just crossed the $300 million mark on its 17th day in theaters, and it'll almost certainly surpass the $333 million total earned by the first "Guardians" within the next several days. Plus, Ridley Scott's previous "Alien" prequel -- 2012's confusing "Prometheus" -- may have squandered a lot of the franchise's good will.
Nonetheless, anticipation for "Covenant" was keen, reviews were good-ish (73 percent at Rotten Tomatoes), word-of-mouth was just okay (as measured by a B grade at CinemaScore), and the R-rated sci-fi/horror installment was able to deliver gore, thrills, and chills that franchise fans have come to expect over the last 38 years. Plus, it's competition among new wide releases skewed a lot younger, so it didn't have to worry about losing viewers to teen romance "Everything, Everything" or family comedy sequel "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul." No wonder people 25 and older made up 66 percent of the "Covenant" audience.
Is "Covenant's" Opening Weekend a Triumph or Disappointment?
The argument is leaning toward the latter.
It's a lot less than the $51 million debut of "Prometheus," but no one expected it to open anywhere near that big anyway. After all, anticipation for "Prometheus" was even greater, since that marked the beginning of Scott's prequel series, as well as the celebrated director's return to the franchise he launched in 1979, after a 33-year absence.
Some pundits predicted that "Covenant" would premiere with as little as $35 million, though others predicted it would open as much as $40 million. So $36 million is within the range of expectations, and -- assuming the weekend estimates hold up when final figures are released Monday -- "Covenant" will claim bragging rights as the movie that dethroned "Guardians."
Is Katherine Waterston the Next Sigourney Weaver?
It's not clear whether her role as the plucky "Covenant" heroine will make her as famous as the original "Alien" made the then-unknown Weaver. But certainly, Hollywood is trying its darnedest to make her a star, between this and her recent supporting-lead role in the Harry Potter franchise-reviving "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."
Still, in "Covenant," she has to compete for the spotlight against not just one but two Michael Fassbenders, as well as a large ensemble cast, so she's probably still a few movies away from a breakthrough role.
Is "Covenant" Going to Make a Profit?
That could depend on what it cost, which in turn depends on who you ask.
Trade reports cite Fox as saying the movie cost $97 million, but the typically blunt and candid Scott has said $111 million. Both figures seem remarkably low for an effects-heavy space opera, especially since "Prometheus" cost a reported $130 million five years ago.
Then again, Fox is reporting that "Covenant" has already earned $81.9 million overseas, so its global total of $117.9 is above even Scott's figure. Of course, once you add marketing costs and subtract the theater owners' take, "Covenant" is going to have to gross as much as $450 million just to break even.
That's not impossible. Scott's previous "Alien" prequel grabbed $403 million from earthling ticketbuyers, and that was at 2012 prices. In any case, what will save "Covenant," like nearly every other big-budget Hollywood release this year, will be the foreign audience. The domestic release was always going to be just gravy, which is another reason why Fox shouldn't be too disappointed by $36 million North American debut.
What Do This Weekend's Results Say About the Summer 2017 Movie Season
Don't forget, even if domestic box office is an afterthought these days, summer sales still traditionally make up 40 percent of the year's take, or about $4.5 billion at the North American box office.
The current summer movie season is just three weeks old, but already, it's seen "Covenant" do "meh" business, "Guardians 2" slightly underperform them, and "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" bomb outright. The box office for the year to date is just slightly ahead of this time last year (by 2.4 percent, or about $102 million). That's not much of an edge; a couple more shaky debuts or massive flops and this year's box office will fall behind and struggle to catch up with previous years. There'd better be a lot of gold in Wonder Woman's lasso.
Scott has said he has at least one and as many as four ideas for future "Alien" installments. As long as the 79-year-old's health holds out, and as long as the $1.4 billion franchise keeps delivering solid worldwide numbers like "Covenant" has, those facehuggers and chestbursters should keep coming back to terrify us for years to come.
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