If you’ve spent any amount of time in fandom circles on Twitter, then you’ve likely run into the “Alita Army,” die-hard fans of the 2019 movie Alita: Battle Angel. Though Fox spent a hefty $170 million and more for marketing, the film underwhelmed at the box office, killing any hope of a sequel. That didn’t stop the Robert Rodriguez-directed, James Cameron-produced film from becoming something of a cult classic and finding a loyal army of fans.
So let’s rethink that sequel. Sure, it will likely never happen, especially now that 20th Century Fox has been folded into Disney and Disney is not in the habit of throwing massive amounts of money at a project that already disappointed the first time around, making this a largely hypothetical exercise. Still, it’s fun to ponder. Here are three reasons making an Alita: Battle Angel sequel wouldn’t be that crazy.
1. It Has A Latinx Female Lead & Empowering Story
Even though years of studies and data have shown that female-led movies make more at the box office on average, women are still hard-pressed to get big action tentpoles. Alita was one of the few big-budget franchises built around a female character, and, what’s more, it cast a woman of Latinx descent as its lead in Rosa Salazar. Those kinds of opportunities don’t come around often for women, let alone for women of color, and it’s a shame that a franchise that was set to center Salazar is now another lost opportunity to achieve better representation and on-screen parity.
It also means Alita‘s empowering, gender-flipped narrative is lost, too. Alita upends the tropes Hollywood likes to use for action leads that happen to be women. Though a teenager, Alita isn’t a starry-eyed girl preoccupied with the boy she likes. Nor is she a helpless damsel-in-distress. And neither is she a two-dimensional cardboard cutout whose only character trait is “kicks ass.” It should be noted that James Cameron wrote the original draft of the screenplay adaptation, but Laeta Kalogridis wrote the final draft. It shows. Alita is the rare female action lead: One that isn’t written exactly like a male character from a male writer’s perspective, but a female character written as an actual girl with the understanding of a female writer behind it. That’s an exception in action movies, not a rule. Any opportunity we can get to write female action characters from a woman’s perspective is one Hollywood should take.
2. It Actually Didn’t Do That Poorly At The Box Office
I’ll come right out and say it: Alita wasn’t a bomb. I know that runs contrary to what most people think, but it wasn’t. It made $404.9 million worldwide – not an enormous number considering the budget, but not a worst-case scenario. The production budget was a reported $170 million (though there’s plenty of reason to think it was actually higher) and conventional wisdom assumes the marketing budget doubled the total cost, if not more. But even if you double the total to account for marketing costs, that brings it to $340 million, meaning – in theory, at least – Alita: Battle Angel still made around $65 million in profit. That’s not great by any means, but it’s also not quite the disaster that many believe it to be. At the very, very least, Alita hit a break-even point during release, or certainly did with home entertainment.
The problem is that for a movie with a budget of that size, studios expect it to do more than break even. They expect it to be a hit. By their very nature of being so expensive, behemoths like Alita require a big ROI to be considered profitable. The rule of thumb is that tentpoles must make back 2.5x their production budget to start making a profit, ideally along the lines of the 50/25/40 rule: 50% from the U.S., 25% from China, 40% from the rest of the world. By that metric, Alita lost some money.
But what if an Alita sequel were made on a smaller budget? It’s potentially possible, and here’s why: Alita‘s budget wasn’t bloated due to cast salaries, but because of the wildly expensive, cutting edge technology behind it. As with many James Cameron films, the scope of his ambition for Alita exceeded technology at the time he conceived it. Cameron bought the rights to the manga Battle Angel Alita all the way back in 2000 and the film was in development hell since. Just like Avatar, the CG technology simply didn’t exist for Alita until a few years ago. Even then, world-renowned Weta Digital had to completely redesign its motion capture technology in order to be able to capture the subtlety of Rosa Salazar’s expressions. That adds up in a movie budget. Now that the technology is there and has been perfected, in theory, it wouldn’t be as expensive to utilize a second time around. CG and mocap tech advance in leaps and bounds every single year. Most sequels are more expensive than the film that came before because a proven success begets a bigger budget. But if they could find a way to keep costs down and agree to a reasonable budget, it might be possible to make an Alita: Battle Angel 2 for a slightly smaller pricetag.
3. There Is A Viable Fan Base – Probably
A curious thing sometimes happens with movies that fail at the box office. As more people find them through home entertainment and streaming, they become more popular. Such is the case with Alita: Battle Angel, which has formed something of a cult following. There is a clear, built-in fanbase there, and it is loud, frequently flooding Twitter with tweets about Alita: Battle Angel and #AlitaArmy responses even when the topic has nothing to do with Alita. What’s more, they are far less toxic in their support of the film than other fandoms have been; their support seems to come from a genuine place of love.
It should be cautioned that it’s not entirely clear how large the Alita fanbase is, however. Vocal Twitter fanbases often get an outsized response because of how loud they are, not because of their size. Bots, fandom spam accounts and sock puppets can create an illusion that a pop culture IP’s following is far larger than it actually is. Still, there’s no denying there is a legitimate fanbase for Alita and that that fanbase is passionate. And, in the almost two years since Alita‘s release, the fanbase has only had a chance to grow with more people finding the movie.
4. We’re Used To Her Face Now
There’s one last point that should be noted: Two years have given more people time to get used to Alita‘s unsettling appearance. There’s no denying that Alita’s character design triggered a primal and often uneasy response in people and that it stopped some from going to the theater. Her overly-large eyes are jarring, deliberately designed to remind us that Alita is a cyborg and not quite human. The issue is that it worked a bit too well, the resulting uncanny valley response turning many people off. I admit, I was one of them and the first trailer was a world of “Nope!” for me. But after being exposed to her face so often, I got used to it and while I still find her a bit alien, she no longer creeps me out. Now that I’ve seen her aesthetic, I’m predisposed to having a more favorable response to it a second time around. I suspect many others are the same.
So, look. The bottom line is that a sequel likely won’t happen. At least, not any time soon. It’s just as easy to argue the reasons a sequel shouldn’t be made. Still, crazier things have happened and maybe in a few years, Disney might be inclined to revisit the world of Alita and continue her story.