Box Office Failures Week: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

When I saw the first trailer for this movie, I thought, “No one but me is going to go see this movie.” But you know, it’s the most successful movie Robert Rodriguez ever released. And I guess it was a success — the film grossed $85.7 million domestically and $319.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $404.9 million.

That’s good, right?

Well, to break even against marketing costs, the movie had to make around $500 million, so it either lost $53 million or barely broke even. Dude, I’m sweating making my minimum payments on my credit cards and these dudes are farting around with figures where $53 million — the amount of money that Mario Bava could have made Danger: Diabolik thirteen times.

PS: I had to do the math for what that movie cost in Italian lira versus U.S. dollars, then do the inflation calculation from 1968 to today. I laugh, because I once said that I would never use math.

So yeah — how did a movie based on Japanese manga artist Yukito Kishiro’s 1990s series Gunnm and the 1993 original video animation adaptation Battle Angel ever make it to U.S. screens?

Guillermo del Toro told James Cameron about it — way back before Avatar. The film sat for years before Cameron asked Robert Rodriguez to condense and combine his 186-page screenplay as well as 600 pages of notes into a shooting script. That work led to Rodriguez getting the directing job and hey — we have a movie.

2563 and we’re already three hundred years after the Great War nearly killed everyone on Earth. That’s when cyborg scientist and part-time bounty hunter Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds a disembodied female cyborg in the scrapyard of Iron City. He names her Alita after his dead daughter and saves her human brain.

Alita is in love with the city and meets all manner of people, from Ido’s ex-wife Dr. Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) and a kid named Hugo who introduces her to the sport of this new world, Motorball.

However, Hugo has a big secret: he really works for Vector (Mahershala Ali, who was astounding in the third season of True Detective), the man who runs Iron City and Motorball.

Alita also learns her father figure’s secret — he’s a bounty hunter — and when she trails him one night, she saves him from a gang of cyborg killers. One of them, Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), hounds our heroine for the rest of the movie.  Alita dreams of bigger things and her past life where she was a Berserker, one of the soldiers of the enemy United Republics of Mars.

You know, maybe reading the manga would have made this all much easier.

Alita goes off and registers herself as a Hunter-Warrior, but is unable to rally any of the other hunters to help her stop Grewishka, who is working for Nova (Ed Norton). Alita’s body is nearly destroyed by the killing machine before Ido, Hogo and dogmaster McTeague (Jeff Fahey!) save her.

Now in a new Berserker body, Alita soon takes over the Motorball league, but loses the love of her life due to the machinations of Nova and his soldiers. The film ends with Alita as a Motorball star, promising that she will someday get her revenge.

You know all that money I mentioned at the top? It didn’t really matter in the long run. That’s because this ended up being the last Fox movie ever made, as Disney purchased the studio, moving us closer to the corporate-controlled world that this movie portrays.

I enjoyed this, but I have no idea how anyone else would react to a movie based on a manga from the 90’s made for a worldwide audience. It’s one of those movies where it cost so much that there’s no way that anyone would see any money from it. But man, it looks really cool, right?

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