When the now infamous first trailer for Jeff Fowler’s adaptation of the flagship Sega character Sonic the Hedgehog hit the internet, things did not look good.
Right off the bat, the beloved character’s design made for uncomfortable watching (even by a trailer’s standards), zipping into uncanny valley territory with an overly anthropomorphic look. It didn’t help either that, bafflingly, the trailer’s score was a rendition of Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise,’ adding conflicting tone to its list of problems.
Yet despite the initial backlash Sonic the Hedgehog has surpassed any and all expectations. To better understand what I mean by this, let’s go through the various factors that make Sonic a resounding success.
This is perhaps the most significant contributor to Sonic the Hedgehog’s ultimate success, considering the changes that were made by Paramount in an effort to appease the overwhelming desires of the fans; something from which other studios could certainly learn.
Audiences were so loudly displeased with the initial trailer, or more specifically Sonic’s design, that the studio made the unprecedented move to redesign the character, delaying the film’s release by three months in the process. As time is money in the film industry, this decision was surely not made lightly, but it was clearly the right one because after the second trailer dropped, the previously disgruntled masses took to social media revelling at Sonic’s redesign, which is much closer to the character’s appearance in video games.
The positive response from audiences didn’t stop there either. Those who attended early screenings praised the film with sincere surprise at its quality and unapologetic embrace of Sonic’s commercial appeal. Positive word of mouth spread, and fans flocked to theatres only to voice further approval of the film. Market surveyor CinemaScore polled audiences, who gave the film an ‘A’ on a scale of A+ to F, while PostTrak found that 70% of users would definitely recommend it, earning an overall score of 4/5 stars. Furthermore, it currently holds an IMDb score of 6.8/10 from over 21,000 reviews and a Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score of 93% based on over 17,000 reviews.
Our own Shaun Lang gave Sonic the Hedgehog a solid score of 7.5/10, noting in the title of his review that it “Speeds Past Expectations”; a sentiment largely shared by the critical community.
Sonic the Hedgehog landed a relatively respectable score of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes, which, for context, is 3% higher than 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody, a film that went on to win four Academy Awards (although, the latter has almost twice as many registered reviews). Critics largely echoed the sentiments of the audiences, praising Sonic’s redesign, the film’s tone, action sequences and performances of the cast, particularly Jim Carrey, whose performance has been favourably compared to the slapstick antics of the ‘90s that made him a household name. However, critics were less forgiving than audiences when it came to its by-the-numbers plot, likely explaining a great deal of its more negative reviews.
Nevertheless, in an age where the internet is an exceedingly powerful tool for the sharing of information, critical response can essentially make or break a film, a lesson I’m sure those behind Cats learned the hard way. Yet what’s interesting about Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t necessarily the score in and of itself, as 63% hardly represents critical acclaim, but rather the fact the film managed to score an overall positive response at all, given the early warning signs of Sonic’s initial design and the poor track record of video game adaptations as a whole.
All this positive word of mouth was exactly what Paramount Pictures needed with Sonic the Hedgehog’s wide release, and the numbers reflect as much.
In its opening weekend, Sonic the Hedgehog made $57 million dollars in Canada and the U.S., breaking the record previously held by 2019’s Detective Pikachu for the biggest domestic opening of a video game adaption. According to Box Office Mojo, at the time of writing this Sonic has grossed $129,451,655 in the region thus far, which makes it the third-highest grossing video game adaptation ever domestically, and it’s on track to strip Detective Pikachu of this record also, which it currently holds at $144.1 million.
Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t fared as well internationally as some of its counterparts, with an international haul of $137,200,000, bringing its current total box office to $266,651,655, making it the 10th highest grossing video game adaptation of all time. Although, it’s very much worth noting that the recent coronavirus outbreak has undeniably hurt Sonic’s ticket sales. Given the severity of the issue in China the film’s release has been delayed until March 27th.
This is especially significant as China has proven itself to be an immensely lucrative market for video game adaptations in recent years. Take Warcraft, which is the highest grossing video game adaptation of all time. The film was, by all accounts, a commercial failure at the domestic box office with $47,365,290 on a budget estimated at $160 million. Incredibly, this only accounts for 10.8% of its global box office, as a whopping $391,683,624 comes from international sales, making up 89.2% of its total gross. The film was a megahit in China, making an estimated $221 million there, which accounts for a little over half of its worldwide gross.
Only time will tell if Sonic the Hedgehog can make an impression on the Chinese market, but given recent public health concerns that don’t seem to be going anyway any time soon, it’s hard not to imagine its box office receipts taking a hit. Regardless, even with the potential for a relatively weak showing in China, Sonic the Hedgehog has already recuperated more than two-and-a-half times its estimated $85 million budget, which is the general benchmark used to distinguish a commercially successful film. If one thing’s for sure though, it’s that we won’t have to wait long for the sequel.