‘Alita: Battle Angel’ (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Fox’s Alita: Battle Angel reigned in the US, Australia and 40 other markets last weekend – but the studio’s prospects of turning the lavish James Cameron production into a franchise don’t look great.

The futuristic sci-fi adventure directed by Robert Rodriguez posted respectable figures which suggest the studio will be hard pressed to recoup the astronomical production budget of $170 million – reduced from the original $200 million thanks to New Zealand and Texas tax credits – and P&A spend.

The good news for Aussie exhibitors is that business rallied last weekend after several lousy weeks, boosted by Alita, Paramount’s comedy What Men Want and Forum Films’ Indian import Gully Boy.

The Universal/Blumhouse slasher-comedy Happy Death Day 2U had an anaemic bow while the Oscar nominations for eOne’s If Beale Street Could Talk and Transmission Films’ At Eternity’s Gate did not count for much. It was a chilly start for Umbrella Entertainment’s Arctic.

Shawn Seet’s Storm Boy is running out of puff after taking $76,000 in its fifth weekend. The Sony release has grossed $4.73 million, its potential almost certainly limited by the inability to use Geoffrey Rush to promote the family film.

David Field’s The Combination: Redemption snared just $21,000 in its second weekend on 26 screens, mustering $109,000 for Pinnacle Films.

The top 20 titles collectively harvested $13.6 million, up 22 per cent on the previous weekend, according to Numero.

Starring Rose Salazar in the title role as a humanoid robot who embraces her destiny as a super-powerful fighter taking on the powers that seek to suppress the common man, Alita: Battle Angel scored nearly $3.8 million and $4.1 million with advance screenings. Pro-rata, that is better than the estimated 3-day $27.8 million debut in the US, where pundits were predicting $41.7 million in five days including Presidents Day.

Co-written by Cameron and deploying visual FX from Peter Jackson’s WETA, the film has pocketed $94.3 million from 86 international markets, with China and Japan ahead. According to Fox, the results those 86 markets are tracking 4 per cent ahead of Ready Player One and 43 per cent up on The Maze Runner at current exchange rates.

That may not bode well for its break-even prospects as The Maze Runner ended up with $246 million internationally and Ready Player One made $445 million including $200 million—plus in China.

Directed by Adam Shankman, What Men Want stars Taraji P. Henson as a sports agent in a male-dominated business who gains the ability to hear men’s thoughts, which enables her to outsmart her colleagues but causes problems with her best friends and a potential love interest (Aldis Hodge).

Audiences sparked to the neat premise, the reverse of Nancy Meyers’ 2000 hit What Women Want, shelling out almost $1.9 million and $2.3 million including previews.

Wallis Cinemas programming manager Sasha Close observed: “Alita opened to reasonable business, as did What Men Want. Other titles struggled to capture audiences’ attention this weekend. We are looking ahead to March, which holds promise with Captain Marvel and Hotel Mumbai.”

The five Oscar nominations continue to pay off for Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, which collared $886,000 in its fourth frame and $7.5 million thus far for eOne.

Sony’s thriller Escape Room plunged by 42 per cent to $760,000 in its second weekend – a typical drop for the genre – to reach $2.4 million. Directed by Adam Robitel, the film has earned $55.7 million in the US and $55.9 million in the rest of the world, a very profitable return for a $9 million budget.

Warner Bros. /Bron Studio/Imperative Entertainment’s The Mule climbed to $7.6 million after minting $727,000 in its fourth. The Clint Eastwood vehicle is at the end of the road in the US after grossing $102.8 million.

Director Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day 2U drummed up $628,000, well below the original which opened with $1.4 million and finished with $3.5 million in 2017. The sequel didn’t fare much better in the US, rustling up an estimated $11.5 million in four days.

Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex, which stars Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the crusading law professor and lawyer, with Armie Hammer as her husband, collected $458,000 in its second weekend, off 37 per cent. The eOne release stands at $1.7 million.

Hans Petter Moland’s Cold Pursuit tumbled by 55 per cent to $452,000 in its second weekend. The Liam Neeson starrer has taken $1.8 million for Studiocanal.

Set in one of Mumbai’s biggest slums and starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt as street rappers loosely based on Divine and Naezy, Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy rang up $439,000 on only 51 screens.

Chinese director Frant Gwo’s The Wandering Earth topped $1 million after grabbing $324,000 in its second outing on 30 screens for CMC Pictures. The sci-fi actioner has amassed a colossal $560 million in 13 days in China, the second biggest local blockbuster ever in the Middle Kingdom, behind Wolf Warrior 2.

If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to the Oscar-winning Moonlight, bagged $137,00 on 73 screens and $148,000 including previews after nabbing Oscar nominations for supporting actress Regina King, Jenkins’ screenplay and the score.

In the US the adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel starring KiKi Layne as a newly-engaged, pregnant 19-year-old in Harlem who races against the clock to prove her fiance (Stephan James) is innocent of rape, has generated a decent $14.1 million.

Willem Dafoe is in the running for best actor for his artful performance as Vincent Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate. CBS Films launched the drama in the US last November, ending up with $2.3 million, so the modest Australian opening of $98,000 on 45 screens and $117,000 including previews and Perth International Arts Festival screening is no great surprise.

Joe Penna’s Arctic, which stars Mads Mikkelsen as a guy who is stranded in the Arctic after an airplane crash, fetched just $30,000 with previews on 15 screens.

Cinema Nova GM Kristian Connelly says: “The new openers fell behind Oscar front runners Green Book and The Favourite. Barry Jenkins’ drama managed a respectable opening at Cinema Nova, well ahead of the national screen average following Moonlight’s success at the venue, while the other three openers (Arctic, At Eternity’s Gate and Border) failed to draw audiences away from the key nominees.”

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