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Gotta go fast, gotta get cash

The unexpected rise of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie

When I first heard there was going to be a film adaptation for Sonic the Hedgehog, a video game series long past its prime, I questioned the choice. Have we learned nothing from the checkered past of video game adaptations? From the catastrophic misfire that was 1993’s Super Mario Bros. (I can never unsee a Bob-Omb wearing Reeboks) to the more recent Tomb Raider adaptations, there has never been a standout masterpiece in the genre. Even 2019’s Detective Pikachu, a film that some are ready to call one of the greatest adaptations of all time, earned a fairly pedestrian Rotten Tomatoes score of 69% and 53% Metacritic rating. Good, but not great.

As development continued, it was announced that noted Batman villain and stealer of Christmases, Jim Carrey, would take up the role of Doctor Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, the primary antagonist of the series. This casting choice at least lent credibility to the film, but it also seemed like a cashed cheque for Carrey and a studio willing to do anything to make this thing stick around in the public eye for as long as they can will it, to be so.

And then came the trailer. Oh boy, that trailer.

Reactions were, to put it lightly, mixed. Criticism was mainly focused on the design of the titular character, which included legs and teeth that were far too humanoid for many to handle. Personally, my biggest gripe was using Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” as movie trailer music in the year 2019, but that’s a conversation for another time.

But then, something incredible happened. 

Reactions were so poor to the initial design that the studio decided to quite literally go back to the drawing board, in turn delaying the release of the film so as to ensure the audience would be satisfied with the look of Sonic. There have been many instances of public dismay in these sorts of situations (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones season eight), but rarely does it enact real change, and so what was once a scheduled release date of Nov. 8, 2019, became Feb. 14, 2020. Funnily enough, this might have been what saved the film financially.

Taking a look at films released in November 2019, Sonic would have had some stiff competition. It would have shared its opening with the second weekend of blockbuster franchise Terminator, started on the same day as a holiday hit Last Christmas, and be bookended by eventual Academy Award winner Ford v. Ferrari the next week. 

If that wasn’t enough, an established animated franchise in Frozen II would release two weeks later, aimed at the same demographic that Sonic was after.

If you look to Feb. 14, you’ll notice a significantly weaker catalogue, though what does appear are films of similar ilk to Sonic

Really, the biggest threat you can muster this time around would be Harrison Ford’s turn in the latest theatrical adaptation of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, but even then, it’s a story that has become a bit too tired and familiar. Speaking of, if we want to talk about bad CGI, let me direct you to the dog in that one. 

So with no real competition in sight, and a restless movie-going crowd in the slow period immediately following the Academy Awards, Sonic the Hedgehog cruised to an impressive opening weekend of just over $58 million at the domestic box office and a total of nearly $296 million worldwide as of March 2020. This is all without the inclusion of the box office numbers in China, where the COVID-19 outbreak has shut down new film releases as of the time of this writing. Once those floodgates open, who knows what the final tally may be.

Of course, there will always be the tinfoil-hat theories that say the original design was done poorly on purpose for media attention, but for now let’s just revel in the fact that, for the second straight year, we’ve had a film adaptation of a video game that, to use scientific terms, doesn’t totally suck.