Paramount announced last night that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (presuming they don’t retitle it Sonic The Hedgehog: The Rise of Shadow or what-have-you), would be opening theatrically on December 20, 2024. That quite literally puts it head-to-head against James Cameron’s Avatar sequel, with both films opening days before the Christmas Day launch of Jon M. Chu’s Wicked (part one of two). Whether Sonic 3 stays where it is or perhaps moves a week back (think Jumanji: The Next Level opening the week before Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) or moves to Christmas Day (think Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle opening five days after Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Paramount and Sega are seeing the video game threequel as being big enough for a bountiful-enough silver medal.
I wrote last month that we’d know that the theatrical marketplace, at least for franchise-friendly flicks, has fully recovered if there is room this Christmas for Avatar: The Way of Water and both DC Films’ Shazam: Fury of the Gods and DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. The holiday season, that two-week year-end period where kids are out of school, and many parents are off work to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day, is a bountiful and leggy one. As a result, a variety of films can flourish in the marketplace. Titanic earned $600 million domestic in 1997/1998, right alongside Tomorrow Never Dies ($125 million), Scream 2 ($102 million), Mouse Hunt ($60 million from a $6 million opening), As Good as It Gets ($148 million) and Good Will Hunting ($138 million).
In 2009, Avatar opened with $77 million, still a record for a live-action original, while Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes shattered the Christmas Day opening day record with $24 million even as Avatar topped the weekend. Avatar earned $2.8 billion that season. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes earned $525 million and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel earned $443 million global. In 2017, The Last Jedi earned $1.33 billion, Jumanji 2 made $962 million and The Greatest Showman grossed $435 million almost concurrently. In 2018, Aquaman sailed to $1.1 billion. Bumblebee concurrently earned $471 million, Mary Poppins Returns earned $350 million and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse earned $390 million. Even The Mule grossed $175 million. Paramount wouldn’t pit its most promising new franchise against Disney’s Avatar unless it thought they both could win.
Sonic the Hedgehog earned $149 million domestic and $319 million worldwide on an $82 million budget in February of 2020, a month before Covid shut everything down. Good reviews, strong buzz and the film’s existence as a Covid-era comfort watch in the early days of lockdown made Sonic the Hedgehog 2 a small-scale breakout sequel. The April 2022 release, which also earned decent reviews and good buzz, opened with $72 million and legged out to $191 million and $402 million worldwide on a $110 million budget. It was the biggest video game movie ever in domestic earnings and second behind Tomb Raider adjusted for inflation. Globally it’s behind Rampage, Detective Pikachu and Warcraft. It’s the first wholly successful (commercially and critically, sorry Resident Evil) video game-based theatrical franchise.
It’s impressive anytime a sequel surpasses the original, especially when A) it’s not an MCU movie and B) the property was technically aimed at kids. This could have easily been a case, like The Smurfs, The LEGO Movie or The Angry Birds Movie, where a franchise-starter plays to four quadrants thanks to nostalgia and curiosity only for the sequel to play strictly to kids and their chaperones. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Doctor Robotnik are marquee characters, while the films took the time to make James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tiki Sumpter and Natasha Rothwell into endearing human foils. Idris Elba’s deadpan himbo version of Knuckles was a crowd-pleaser and someone who audiences would enjoy seeing in a threequel. I say team him up with Rachel.
Whether Carrey makes good on his threats to retire (Robotnik ended Sonic 2 in classic ‘seemingly dead, but they didn’t find a body’ fashion), the tease of Shadow in the second film’s mid-credit cookie inspired excitement and glee among fans (including my 11-year-old son). That excitement was earned when the first two films worked as high-quality, unpretentious kid-friendly entertainments. Like (relatively speaking) the Joker card reveal at the end of Batman Begins, the sequel teases work because fans want to see those characters as they exist and interact with the previously established cinematic universe. All of this is to say that there’s little reason to expect Sonic the Hedgehog 3 to bottom out on the third go-around.
Paramount wouldn’t have slated it for Christmas if they thought competition from Avatar 3 would keep it from otherwise earning best-case-scenario box office. Warcraft earned $219 million of its $440 million worldwide total via a frontloaded run in China and, on a $165 million budget with terrible reviews and just $47 million domestic, didn’t justify a sequel. Can Sonic the Hedgehog 3 become the first video game-based movie to crack $500 million worldwide? Can it at least pass Warcraft so that the video game movie grossers list can be topped by an actual hit movie? If the theatrical marketplace for tentpoles and four quadrant biggies has genuinely recovered, then opening alongside the other threequel starring CGI-crafted blue cat-like creatures won’t be any real obstacle for Sonic the Hedgehog 3.