Could ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ Speed Paramount’s Recovery at the Box Office?

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“Sonic the Hedgehog,” a film once known as a “Cats”-level internet joke, has become Paramount’s biggest box office hit in almost 18 months. With a three-day domestic opening of $58 million, the film based on Sega’s blue speedster has given the Viacom-owned studio its best opening weekend since 2018’s “Mission: Impossible — Fallout.”

That’s welcome news after Paramount’s disappointing $563.9 million in total domestic box office in 2019, when none of the studio’s releases managed to cross $100 million in domestic ticket sales.

While the Elton John biopic “Rocketman” produced a profit with $195 million in global ticket sales against a $40 million budget, the studio struck out hard with would-be blockbusters “Gemini Man” and “Terminator: Dark Fate.” Both films had budgets well over $100 million, and both failed to gross even $300 million worldwide. (Paramount shared the costs on “Gemini Man” with Skydance, Alibaba and Fosun, while “Dark Fate” was co-financed with Skydance and Disney’s 20th Century Fox.)

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With “Sonic” off to a fast start, Paramount is now looking ahead to what it hopes will be a brighter 2020 with a film slate featuring more recognized sequels and mature films with well-known talent — and as many as five films crossing the $100 million threshold at the box office.

Chris Aronson, the former head of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox who now holds the same position at Paramount, credited Jim Gianopulos’ leadership since replacing the late Brad Grey as the studio’s CEO in March 2017.

“It’s safe to say that this is the first year where the film slate is 100% developed by Jim and his team,” Aronson said, pointing to the studio’s high hopes for two starry sequels backed by recent Super Bowl spots. John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place — Part II,” due March 20, will try to top the $340.9 million global total of its 2018 predecessor while “Top Gun: Maverick” (June 26) will bank on the popularity of Tom Cruise’s 1987 hit — as well as the star’s continued appeal in the action genre.

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Following the success of the family-friendly “Sonic,” Paramount hopes for strong returns for May 22’s “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run” — the first big-screen outing of the Nickelodeon franchise since 2015’s “Sponge Out of Water,” which grossed $325 million worldwide.

“Paramount really needs to get more franchises on their slate, but especially ones that kids are into. When they go to see ‘Sonic,’ they’ll also see trailers for ‘Spongebob’ as well,” said Boxoffice analyst Shawn Robbins. “Sometimes it takes one good hit and that can give a studio months of momentum.”

After the summer, Paramount will still have some sequels and adaptations on the slate, but its biggest bets are based on recognizable stars and filmmakers rather than familiar material. Among them is the September release “Without Remorse,” a Tom Clancy adaptation featuring “Black Panther” star Michael B. Jordan as vengeful Navy SEAL John Clark. Paramount will also release “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” a true-story drama that will be the second film directed by Aaron Sorkin.

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The biggest post-summer release for the studio may be Eddie Murphy’s first studio comedy in nine years: “Coming 2 America,” the sequel to the 1988 John Landis comedy that’s due out Dec. 18. Murphy has been on a roll, returning to the spotlight with the acclaimed Netflix biopic “Dolemite Is My Name” and his first hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live,” both of which have revived widespread interest in the famed comedian.

With five films, including “Sonic,” holding the potential to gross over $100 million domestically, Paramount has the making of a slate that could match 2018’s $769 million total. That year, with both “Fallout” and “A Quiet Place” grossing over $175 million domestically, bumped Paramount’s market share from 5% to 6.4%.

The question is whether Paramount, whose parent company has now re-merged with CBS to become ViacomCBS, will be able to maintain its momentum. The studio’s 2021 slate includes revivals of the microbudget horror series “Paranormal Activity” and the MTV series “Jackass,” along with films based on “Dungeons & Dragons” and “My Little Pony” and the eighth “Mission: Impossible” film.

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