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The Weekend Movie Takeaway: Video Game IP Holders Rejoice As ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ Sped to Box Office Glory

February 18, 2020
2 min read time

The Presidents Day long weekend proved especially fruitful for a certain speedy hedgehog, giving hope to video game intellectual property holders everywhere.

Sonic the Hedgehog, a live action film based on the popular SEGA games character, opened to a whopping $68 million across the four-day weekend. A stellar result for a film that was previously mired in fan-centric controversy.

When the first trailer for Sonic was released last year, fans decried the appearance of the title character, who had been “humanized” with calf muscles, square teeth, and regular-sized eyes. Then, in an unprecedented move, the studio announced that they had heard the fans—they would redesign Sonic to bring him more in line with what he looked like in the game.

It marked the first such move by a major studio. It also presented all sorts of implications for the future of big screen narrative: Were the passengers driving the car now? How could such outrage be measured? Where was the line between fan-service and storytelling?

Well, Paramount seemed to land exactly on that fine line. What was a situation that seemed highly worrying at the time (i.e., letting the online whiners decide what a movie should do) now seems like genius in retrospect, as much of Sonic's success is being attributed to how the studio “listened” to fans and gave them the character they wanted.

The film's three-day numbers alone make it the best ever opening for a film based on a videogame, and the best opening in years for Paramount, a studio sorely lacking in recent box office successes. It should also spur development on a long-threatened second Super Mario Bros. movie, and gives hope to anyone planning on hanging a film on a videogame character.

Films based on videogames are famously almost always bad, and rarely do well at the box office. But that long-standing trend was bucked last year with the success of Pokémon Detective Pikachu, and now with the triumph of Sonic the Hedgehog could herald a new era of videogame-derived narratives.

Another film based on an intellectual property, albeit a slightly older one, debuted at the number three spot on the box office charts over the weekend. The newly imagined Fantasy Island proved to be of interest from a narrative perspective. 

The film, based on the 1977-84 (and 1998) TV series created by Gene Levitt, earned $14 million over the four-day weekend; a result which calls into question the decision to turn what was known primarily as a drama series into a horror franchise.

The new narrative approach suits the format of the series—which had guests learning lessons they didn't initially realize they needed—but moves tonally away from what the show was known for, and thus, perhaps, alienating the property’s existing audience.

The film also made the curious decision to brand itself as Blumhouse's Fantasy Island, no doubt in a combined effort to benefit from being associated with the hit horror factory behind movies such as Get Out and Paranormal Activity, and to indicate the new direction the property was heading in.

The results weren't embarrassing, but don't bode especially well for anyone planning a sci-fi movie based on The Love Boat.

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