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‘Alien: Covenant’ Narrowly Justifies the Continuation of the Franchise

The new prequel sequel posted the fourth best opening for the franchise.
By  · Published on May 22nd, 2017

The new prequel sequel posted the fourth best opening of the franchise.

It sounds worse than it is to report Alien: Covenant opened lower —at $36M—than both Prometheus ($51M, or $56M adjusted for inflation) and Alien vs. Predator ($38M, or $55M adjusted for inflation). Technically, with inflation adjustment, the new prequel is also posting a debut that’s smaller than Alien 3‘s ($19M, or $41M adjusted for inflation).

Opening numbers reflect the excitement for a movie and not its overall success or appreciation, and those top three Alien installments were very big moments for the franchise in terms of fanticipation. And each was met with a level of disappointment, so the follow-ups to each, Covenant now included, were not as enticing to moviegoers.

Fortunately for the franchise, which has plans for at least two more prequels (totaling four films set before 1979’s Alien, which makes sense for the series that popularized the term “quadrilogy”), Covenant was also cheaper to make than Prometheus and its worldwide gross is already higher than its budget (reportedly a smidgen under $100M).

Just as it is here, Covenant is underperforming compared to its predecessor in most territories, though it’s actually doing better in many Asian markets. Even with an opening weekend gross on the low end of box office projections, especially those made after it earned an impressive but ultimately front-loaded $4M on Thursday night, there’s no reason for Fox to be concerned.

For those who did go see the prequel sequel over the weekend, reception has been similar to that of Prometheus. Both movies earned a ‘B’ grade through Cinemscore polling, and their review aggregate scores on Rotten Tomatoes are exactly the same at 72% —the average rating was higher for Prometheus, however.

Overall buzz seems to be that people either really love Covenant or downright loathe it. How many fans of the franchise can truly give up on the series, though? Especially as it gets closer to forming a direct link to the original movie, possibly even with an appearance from a digitally de-aged Sigourney Weaver back in the role of Ripley.

Even if the next installment still isn’t up to Prometheus levels on its opening weekend, that fourth one should bring everyone back into the theaters, out of urgent curiosity for how it will all connect.

When it comes to prequel film series, though, its hard to predict interest far in advance because there’s no consistency among them all. Star Wars prequel openings were each bigger than the one before, despite the dissatisfaction with The Phantom Menace. Star Trek reboot and The Hobbit openings, meanwhile, dropped with each installment.

Non-spinoff X-Men openings since the main series went back in time with First Class have been up and down. The first and third are among the franchise’s worst bows, while the second compared fairly well to its best. No matter what, Fox will never stop making them, either.

Planet of the Apes, which sort of counts and is another Fox franchise, has so far been on the incline, but early predictions for the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes have it opening lower than the other two.


Depending on what it offers, the next Alien might continue the decline or see a jump in anticipation. But it’s hard to imagine how much more story there is between Covenant and the first Alien. At the end of the new movie, we know that the colony ship with its 2,000 hibernating inhabitants is pretty much doomed. Could we see a movie entirely set on the Covenant as the aliens tear through so many bodies? Would such a sequel have Katherine Waterston’s Daniels dead from the start or returning for more action as she battles both Xenomorphs and Michael Fassbender’s bad robot, David?

More of the familiar seemed to be both an appealing factor and a repellant for moviegoers, depending on what they want from this franchise, so a more centralized cat and mouse game, whether more haunted house oriented or action heavy (are some of those colonists military?) could be key for at least keeping the former group on board.

Two things the Alien prequels will continue to have, as far as we’re certain, are Fassbender and director Ridley Scott, both of whom should keep its audience intrigued — especially if there are somehow even more Fassbenders on screen at once going forward. And the franchise brand name will always provide some fuel.

To compare to another franchise, Covenant opened slightly bigger than Terminator Genisys, a movie that brought back star Arnold Schwarzenegger and still seemed to kill its franchise with its disappointing box office. That is until just this morning we reported that the Terminator series is in fact continuing with original director James Cameron on board as a producer. There’s just no death to some of these properties.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.