Box Office Guy: Alien: Covenant

Patrick Reardon

Last weekend "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" emerged as the first box office bomb of summer 2017. Note to Hollywood: how about a 25-year moratorium on any new King Arthur projects? After four high profile King Arthur misfires over the past twenty-two years, haven't you learned your lesson by now? Nobody cares. Short of tying Arthur into the Marvel cinematic universe I don't think there is a way to get modern audiences to care about Camelot.

This weekend a trio of new releases will try to avoid the fate that befell "King Arthur." Up first is that seemingly unkillable xenomorph that has been terrorizing moviegoers for nearly forty years.

"Alien: Covenant" is the eighth entry in the resilient "Alien" franchise. In order to understand the box office prospects for "Covenant" let's dive into the franchise's past (all box office numbers are adjusted for inflation to provide perspective):

1979 - "Alien" ($278m domestic total)

Director Ridley Scott's second feature film scared the hell out of audiences and set the template that countless sci-fi films have followed over the past four decades. If you've never seen it I highly recommend a viewing. If for no other reason than to see just how many times it's been copied over the years.

1986 - "Aliens" ($203m domestic total)

James Cameron (hot off of "The Terminator") stepped into the director's chair for Ridley Scott and the film clearly reflects this change. Whereas Scott's film is essentially a haunted house movie set in space, Cameron opted to make an action/war film instead. The result was the rare sequel that was just as good (if not better) than the original.

1992 - "Alien 3" ($118m domestic total)

Director David Fincher made his feature directorial debut with this third franchise entry. Seriously, has there ever been a film franchise that started out with a more talented trio of directors? The film is the darkest entry in the series (both literally and thematically) and received mixed reactions from audiences. The film also appeared to be the end of the "Alien" franchise as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley character threw herself into a pit of fire at the end. But in Hollywood does any money making franchise stay dead forever?

1997 - "Alien Resurrection" ($92m domestic total)

Thanks to some convenient human cloning, Weaver returns as Ripley for a fourth time. Unfortunately the film felt more like a retread than a true reboot. Audiences were indifferent, resulting in the lowest grossing of the stand-alone "Alien" films. Plus that Winona Ryder casting was really odd.

2004 - "Alien vs. Predator" ($114m domestic total)

2007 - "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem" ($52m domestic total)

Let's say you're running 20th Century Fox in the early 2000s. You have a dormant "Alien" property. You have a dormant "Predator" property. How do you fix this problem? You obviously pit them against each other in a hastily constructed movie. Nostalgia carried the first "AvP" film to modest success but audiences largely ignored the follow-up.

2012 - "Prometheus" ($138.3m domestic total)

This was billed as Ridley Scott's triumphant return to the franchise that made him an A-list director. The finished product…was not quite A-list. While it looked aesthetically beautiful the plot baffled many audience members. Those expecting a return to "Alien"-esque thrills were treated to a sci-fi film that may have been too ambitious for its own good. While it did decent business it definitely falls into the category of, "seen by many, loved by few."

This brings us to the release of "Alien: Covenant" this weekend. Scott is back in the director's chair and based on the marketing it appears "Covenant" is a proper return to the elements that made "Alien" a fan favorite in the first place (i.e. lots of screams, lots of the xenomorph).

I think the film will do decent business, but I'm not expecting a gigantic opening. The best days of the franchise are behind it and I feel "Covenant" will have a hard time crossing over beyond hardcore "Alien" fans. In order to screen it in FML this week I'd want it to clear $40m, but I think it's going to fall a bit short of that benchmark. At FB$655 it feels too expensive to play which will lead me to seek better value elsewhere.

Also opening wide this weekend is "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul," the fourth entry in Fox's profitable franchise. Unless you have a child who fits into the "Wimpy Kid" demographic, you might not realize what a steady performer it's been over the past seven years:

2010 - "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" ($22.1m opening, $64m domestic total)

2011 - "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" ($23.8m opening, $52.7m domestic total)

2012 - "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" ($14.6m opening, $49m domestic total)

Granted, there are some red flags here: a five-year layoff, a 39% drop from part two to three and the lowest theater count in franchise history by about 200. But the film is priced in a way (FB$143) where it only has to get into the $9m-$10m range to be a relevant play. While the "Wimpy Kid" franchise may have already peaked, I still think there is enough fight left in him to get into this range and it deserves consideration as your anchor.

The final new release this week is the Warner Bros. teen drama "Everything, Everything." Based on the marketing Warner Bros. appears to be using the same playbook they used to great success about a year ago with their hit "Me Before You" ($18.7m opening, $56.2m domestic total). But I don't see them being as successful this time around.

While Emilia Clarke ("Game of Thrones") and Sam Claflin ("Hunger Games" series) weren't household names, they still lent "Me Before You" some semblance of star power. Whereas "Everything, Everything" is relying on relative newcomers Amanda Stenberg and Nick Robinson (aka the mopey teen from "Jurassic World"). Unless fans of the young adult novel on which the film is based are more rabid than I'm aware of, I don't see a massive opening for this film. It has a potential upside at FB$181, but I'd need to be confident that it can sail past $10m. I currently lack this confidence so I'll be leaning away from it.

With the season winding down, you should consider throwing traditional strategies out the window. You're either in one of three positions in your FML leagues: 1) protecting a lead, 2) trying to overtake someone or 3) hopelessly out of it. If you fall into category one, I'd play it safe with "Guardians Vol. 2" as my anchor and hedge the rest of my lineup. If you fall into category two, this is not the time to play it safe. Between "Wimpy Kid" and "Everything, Everything" pick which one your gut is telling you is the stronger option and go all in on it. What do you have to lose? If you fall into category three? Good news, summer season is right around the corner and you'll have a clean slate. Take this week to experiment with your lineup and become a better player in our new season.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. Alien: Covenant (FB$655)
2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (FB$532)
3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (FB$143)
4. Everything, Everything (FB$181)
5. Snatched (FB$137)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul" For the reasons listed above and the fact there isn't a lot of family friendly fare currently in the marketplace now that "The Boss Baby" and "Beauty and the Beast" are winding down their runs.

Coming Attractions

The beginning of the third summer season of Fantasy Movie League kicks off with a pair of big Memorial Day weekend releases. Johnny Depp tries to fend of ghost pirates (and mounting debt) for fifth time in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales." And the other new wide release will attempt to clone the "21 Jump Street" formula (i.e. take a cheesy 1990s drama and turn it into action-comedy gold) as "Baywatch" starring Dwayne Johnson splashes down in theaters.

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