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Waiting and hedging its bets proved to be worth it for Paramount.
Over the long Presidents Day weekend, Sonic the Hedgehog zoomed past expectations to a $70 million debut — the studio’s biggest domestic opening since Mission: Impossible – Fallout over 18 months ago.
Every Hollywood studio has its ups and downs at the box office, but Paramount has endured a dismal run, topped by big-budget misses such as Gemini Man and Terminator: Dark Fate in late 2019 (both films were produced and co-financed by partner Skydance).
Sonic marks an important victory for Paramount and studio chairman Jim Gianopulos after scoring the top opening of all time for a video game adaptation. Gianopulos picked up the project out of turnaround from Sony in fall of 2017, not long after he took the job and was tasked with righting the ailing studio.
“Sonic was the right film at the right time. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for Paramount, a studio that desperately needs franchises. God forbid the industry loses another major studio to a rival,” says box office analyst Jeff Bock.
The live-action CGI hybrid, based on the popular Sega video game, was hardly a sure bet. The family pic’s release date was pushed back three months after first-time feature director Jeff Fowler announced he was redesigning the titular character after a loud outcry over the first trailer.
“It indicated that there was a rabid fan base that cared. We needed a reset,” says Paramount domestic distribution president Chris Aronson. “I can’t think of any other examples of this being done. To change a character is pretty unusual.”
Adds box office analyst Paul Dergarbedian: “It was a very interesting business decision, and I think that all the talk of changing the character helped the movie and made it more mainstream.”
Heading into Presidents Day weekend, Sonic was tracking to gross roughly $45 million to $50 million for the four-day holiday. Its three-day gross of $58 million beat those projections alone, while the estimated four-day gross of $70 million represents the fourth-best domestic showing for the holiday behind Black Panther ($242.5 million), Deadpool ($152.3 million) and Fifty Shades of Grey ($93 million), not adjusted for inflation.
Based on Sonic the Hedgehog’s opening numbers, analysts believe the movie has a shot at grossing $200 million domestically.
Paramount’s top-grossing film domestically last year was Rocketman with $96.4 million in ticket sales. Otherwise, Sonic has already out-grossed every other release of last year in North America, including tentpoles Terminator: Dark Fate ($62.3 million) and Gemini Man ($48.5 million). Neither of the two latter films were able to make up ground overseas.
Sonic is also off to a strong start internationally, where it debuted to $43 million from its first 40 markets for an early global total of $113 million.
The $87 million film — which received an A CinemaScore but only mediocre reviews — sees Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) team up with a small-town sheriff (James Marsden) to battle the evil genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).
“Nostalgia played a bigger factor than expected, moving this from a traditional family film to the teen and hipster quadrants,” says Bock.
Previously, 2019’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu boasted the top North American debut for a video game adaptation with a three-day start of $54.3 million, not adjusted for inflation.
While they are very different films, Sonic did steal some of the younger audience from Warner Bros. and DC’s Birds of Prey, which earned $20 million over Presidents Day weekend for an anemic 11-day domestic total of $62 million.
Paramount’s rebound should continue in earnest with the release of A Quiet Place Part II on March 20 and Top Gun: Maverick on June 26.
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