There was always going to be a market for Saban’s Power Rangers. We just didn’t how big that market would be. Even though all of us 90s kids grew up and moved on to other things, the Power Rangers TV show persevered, and is currently in its 24th season, still ranking in the top three in kids entertainment programs around the world. Plus, 90s nostalgia is in bloom, and superhero movies are the currency of the realm. What better time, then, to reboot the Power Rangers, about a group of teenagers who become superheroes, as a big budget film franchise?
Yeah, but surely nostalgia has its limits. The bottom of the barrel must be in full view at this point, if we haven’t scraped it already. The Power Rangers, or at least the Mighty Morphin variety this new movie is meant to evoke, was never a good TV show. Not even close. And that Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie is a contender for worst of all time. We all know that, right? If not, have your nostalgia bubble busted by this Honest Trailer:
So, we’re in agreement. We’re not going to zombie-like lurch forward to this new Power Rangers movie while mumbling to ourselves “Reminds me of childhood. Give me something to do with brat kids for 2 hours.” This can’t be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – another 90s nostalgia reboot with superhero movie elements – all over again. As an idiot U.S. President once said, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
Now, I’ll just pause a moment to look up Power Rangers’ opening weekend box office numbers:
Oh, come on!
Actually, a $40m debut is a fair deal smaller than the first TMNT‘s debut ($65m) and barely better than its flop of a sequel ($35m). Plus, that is easily the smallest opening for any of March’s blockbusters (even Skull Island made over $60m in its debut). Yet it is by no means the disaster many had predicted. Instead, Power Rangers came in on the absolute high end of domestic expectations, and while it didn’t do much of anything internationally it still has France, Italy and Spain next weekend, South Korea in late April and Japan in mid-July.
Lionsgate funded the majority of the film’s $100m budget through foreign pre-sales, leaving it with just a 25% exposure including prints and advertising. So, they’ll probably be thrilled if Power Rangers replicates the 2.91 multiplier of the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which would put it at a final domestic tally of $118m. TMNT had the end of the summer to do that in whereas Power Rangers comes out just as kids are going back to school after Spring Break. Still, Power Rangers has a better CinemaScore (“A” vs. “B”), Rottentomatoes rating (45% vs. 22%) and IMDB fan rating (7.2/10 vs. 5.9/10). That superior fan response suggests Power Rangers has a shot at replicating TMNT’s longevity.
But how did we even get to this point? Why did Lionsgate, the mini-major studio which has been searching for new franchises ever since The Hunger Games and Twilight ended, want to make Power Rangers in the first place? And how did they manage to market their way into a respectable opening weekend?
According to Deadline, Lionsgate should be sending fruit baskets to producer Adi Shankar and director Joseph Kahn right about now. After more or less test-screening some old Power Rangers DVDs for his kids, Lionsgate’s co-president Erik Feig became convinced the market was primed for a Power Rangers movie comeback. His company had acquired home distribution rights for the franchise in 2012, and by 2015 he was personally pitching Haim Saban an idea for a new Power Rangers film franchise which could tap into the superhero craze but also stand out by striking a decidedly goofier tone. Saban wasn’t so sure. After all, at the height of the franchise’s popularity, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie bombed, grossing just $38m domestic.
And then in February 2015, like a gift from heaven, Adi Shankar and Joseph Kahn dropped their Power/Rangers YouTube video of what an R-Rated Power Rangers would look like. It was the latest in Shankar’s line of professionally produced fan films pitching harder edged approaches to well-known franchises. This gritty version of the Power Rangers starred Katee Sackhoff and James Van Der Bee, and it went viral quicker than you can say “cease and desist order,” although one of those came pretty dang quick from Saban Entertainment. By that point, Power/Rangers had already been viewed 12 million times. Saban later allowed it to be re-uploaded with the disclaimer that it was a fan film.
Shankar, who produces his bootleg fan films out of his own pocket and claims to make no profit from them, gambled Power/Rangers might get both him and Kahn hired to produce and direct an official Power Rangers movie. Instead, it simply convinced Lionsgate and Saban that Power Rangers nostalgia was rich enough they should definitely move forward on a movie, but they were never going to let Shankar and Kahn get anywhere near it, not if they were insistent on going for an R-Rating.
Instead, they hired Project Almanac’s 32-year-ol director Dean Israelite to helm the film, based on his pitch to, as Feig put it, ‘“have real kids with serious emotions but never allow the movie itself to be self-serious.” Israelite and his screenwriter John Gatins gave them the serious emotions (all of the Power Rangers in the film deal with some topic social issue, such as bullying or sexual orientation confusion) and the goofiness (Elizabeth Banks turning the camp up to 11 as Rita Repulsa, everything still resulting in giant robot vs. monster) plus the PG-13 rating they demanded. The casting of Banks, in particular, seemed to catch a lot of people’s attention, considering the goodwill flowing her way both as a beloved comedic performer and also as the woman whose directorial debut, Pitch Perfect 2, broke several box office records.
But the 49% of Power Rangers’ domestic opening weekend ticket buyers who were between the ages of 18-34 and 39% between the ages of 25-34 weren’t all there just to see Banks camp it up. A lot of them were likely simply there for 100% nostalgia. Others, though, had possibly been swayed by Lionsgate various marketing efforts, as outlined by Deadline:
-Lionsgate teamed with Univision to execute a Power Rangers custom content social blitz across the Facebook pages for Despierta America, El Gordo Y La Flaca, El Premio Lo Neustro, and the Univision main page. They also partnered with five top Latino influencers to share a series of Ranger-themed vignettes and to push ticketing during the pic’s first weekend of release. PostTrak reports that the Hispanic audience accounted for 25% of Power Rangers audience this weekend.
–Based on the number of Tweets and custom Power Ranger Emojis, Lionsgate made a donation to the global water non-profit the Thirst Project, which seeks to provide clean water and build wells in developing countries.
–There was a partnership with Enchroma to promote Color Blindess Awareness. Enchroma makes glasses for the color blind.
–One of the biggest product tie-ins was Krispy Kreme donuts, as a vital crystal integral to the Power Rangers is hidden in the donut shop. Elizabeth Banks’ villain Rita Repulsa is after it, and says in a campy line how she has to get that Krispy Kreme donut shop. The pastry chain is serving up custom made Power Rangers donuts in conjunction with the pic.
–There were Rita Repulsa social stunts named #RepulsaTakesOver surrounding Cyber Monday, holiday parties, St. Patricks Day and Valentine’s Day, that offered her witty and irreverent commentary. She also interacted with other brands like The Hunger Games.
–There was an online Angel Grove High School newspaper called The Roar with a narrative for fans to learn more about the Rangers’ teenage counterparts with four issues dropping throughout the campaign with exclusive new images and storylines from the film.
–Lionsgate together with Qualcomm created a two-minute VR experience designed to allow audiences to enter the Zords of their favorite Power Ranger, embodying their powers and capabilities. The experience debuted at CES with a small press event before becoming available to all CES attendees at a Power Rangers branded Qualcomm booth. The experience was made available to the public within an official mobile app this month and also debuted at SXSW.
In addition there were partnerships with Game Spot, IGN, Atom Tickets, as well as 50 promotional screenings leading up to release.
Their efforts paid off, and Power Rangers is a tentative hit. It if craters in the coming weeks the narrative might change, but for now everyone at Lionsgate is probably walking around the office humming the “go go power rangers” theme song. Damn. Now it’s in my head too.