Sonic’s box-office record is good news for video game movies

After the near-death experience Sonic The Hedgehog experienced at the hands of Twitter last April, the $57 million it made in its opening weekend is a shock to many. It holds the record for the best debut for a film based on a video game, beating out Detective Pikachu’s $54.3 million take from 2019. A smart redesign of the Sega character and the film’s ability to fill a gap in the viewing market could be what makes Sonic a continued success.

“North American audiences have had a very rocky relationship with movies based on video games, with very mixed results at the box office and generally horrible reviews from the critics,” Comscore’s senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. Even the 1993 movie version of one of the most recognizable and arguably popular brands — Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. — flopped at the box office. With the film’s international box office included, Sonic’s opening total is closer to $100 million.

A 64% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a built-in fan base helped Sonic beat films like Tomb Raider, Warcraft, and The Angry Birds Movie. Sonic also had big-name actor appeal, with performances by Jim Carrey and James Marsden.

When the first trailer for the film hit Twitter in April 2019, the internet roasted the main character’s human-like teeth, skin, limbs, and overall design for being too realistic, with some describing it as “nightmare fuel,” according to USA Today film critic Brian Truitt.

Therapist: Sonic with human teeth isn't real, he can't hurt you

Sonic with human teeth: pic.twitter.com/hOBy6QFLVK

— murphy, (@sunyshorecity) April 30, 2019

“We just went too far,” director Jeff Fowler told USA Today. “There was just too much realism. We just lost what it was that fans loved about the character.” Instead of allowing the swift and negative social media takedown to derail the project, Fowler and Paramount studios delayed the release of the film by three months in order to redesign Sonic.

Thank you for the support. And the criticism. The message is loud and clear… you aren't happy with the design & you want changes. It's going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be… #sonicmovie #gottafixfast ????✌️

— Jeff Fowler (@fowltown) May 2, 2019

Dergarabedian said “very publicly” listening to fans was the right move. Fowler acknowledged issues on Twitter head-on and as a result, he “turned, what ordinarily would be a disastrous situation for any film into box-office gold, with the changes they made not only raising awareness of the film, but also pleasing fans who now felt like they had a hand [in these] very changes.”

Paramount’s head of distribution Chris Aronson agreed: “If you don’t listen to your customer, and this goes for any business, then you’re going to fail.”

Sonic also managed to avoid another pitfall after missing out on the lucrative holiday release in the U.S. because the movie fills a “huge void in the marketplace by offering a fun, family-friendly PG-rated romp, and audiences around the world embraced the film,” Dergarabedian said.

Overall, critics have agreed the months spent redesigning the character was the right move, even if they did not fully enjoy the movie. Screenrant said it accomplishes “what it sets out to do: Tell a fun, entertaining and heartfelt story about a young outcast hedgehog who finds his place in the world.”

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