‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Bombs With $148M Global Debut
Walt Disney and Lucasfilm’s Solo: A Star Wars Story performed at near-worst-case scenario levels this Memorial Day weekend. The film opened with a soft-ish $35.6 million on Friday, including $14m in Thursday previews, before comparatively cratering over the holiday for an $83.3m Fri-Sun and projected $101m Fri-Mon frame. That’s a weak 2.83x four-day weekend multiplier, on par with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2.73x in 2007) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2.71x in 2006). That wouldn’t be a problem if the overall numbers were bigger, as X-Men 3 and Pirates 3 both set Memorial Day records. Solo did not set any (positive) records.
But when your $250-$300 million (thanks to reshoots) sci-fi prequel opens with $101m over four days with a lower weekend multiplier than X-Men: Apocalypse, with awful overseas numbers to boot, the odds are beyond grim. Yes, the reviews are decent and the next two weeks are relatively vacant. But even and arguable best-case-scenario of a 2.5x multiplier (think Men in Black 3 in 2012) gives the Ron Howard-directed film a domestic total just over/under the $248m debut weekend of The Force Awakens.
And there is plenty of precedent for a much-grimmer outcome. That weekend multiplier is terrifying because there are plenty of big Memorial Day releases (the third and fifth Pirates movies, the last three ensemble X-Men flicks, Day After Tomorrow or Fast and Furious 6) that barely earned over/under 2x their four-day gross over their entire domestic run. Yes, there is math that argues that Solo: A Star Wars Story may end up essentially earning about what The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($202 million) or Godzilla ($200m) did in 2014. And unlike those franchises, Lucasfilm can’t count on an overseas bailout.
Star Wars has remained a relatively 50/50 franchise in terms of domestic/overseas splits. So this probably isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales which earned $172.5 million in North America and $794m worldwide last Memorial Day weekend. Pirates 5 earned $172.5m in China, a territory where Solo has already stiffed with an over/under $10m opening weekend. The film earned just $65m in its overseas debut, giving the film a $148.3m Fri-Sun global launch. Even if it recovers tomorrow, we’re looking at a sub-$200m global launch and no guarantee of post-debut legs.
As noted yesterday, $1 billion+ success of Rogue One (and the $2b+ success of The Force Awakens) may have created both unrealistic expectations and the need to somewhat formalize the new wave of Star Wars movies. Had Rogue One made $600-$800 million, it would have set the tone for a franchise where the “episodes” score sky-high box office while the Star Wars Story movies are less-conventional/more offbeat movies that aren’t expected to rule the world. Absent its sadly timely politics that made it “the movie we need right now,” Rogue One might have done just that.
But going from three $1 billion+ grossers to an installment that may struggle to hit $600 million is a horrible look. That a vocal minority skewed the narrative of the well-reviewed and mostly well-received The Last Jedi so that its $1.33bgross was viewed as a failure didn’t help. Nor did the online narrative around Rian Johnson’s sequel being that it disappointed fans by being too different/bold/unconventional or too “politically correct.”
That was frustrating both to those who really liked Last Jedi and to those who didn’t like it for subjectively valid reasons entirely unrelated to the gender parity and racial makeup of its cast. Now what should have been either a victory lap after three-straight $1b+ hits or an acceptable mulligan is going to only add to the “Egad, Star Wars is doomed” drumbeat. That’s absurd, of course, as usually “new” franchises that bust out of the gate with three $1 billion+ releases aren’t declared DOA after one under-$700m installment.
Had this kind of mindset existed 10-15 years ago, Batman Begins would have been declared a flop after earning only $371 million on a $150m budget. And the first batch of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, especially the non-Iron Man ones that earned $238-$449m worldwide on $140-$160m budgets, would have been viewed with a much more critical “Egad, Marvel needs to take drastic reactionary action now!” eye. The freedom for Captain America: The First Avenger to be crowned a hit for earning $371m worldwide was a luxury never afforded to the first batch of DC Films flicks.
Let’s play worst-case-scenario ball here and presume that Solo makes exactly $543.2 million worldwide and loses around $300m. That’s presuming a $300m budget, $300m in marketing and then $250m back to theaters in ticket sales. Yes, I’m intentionally overexaggerating here. That still puts the first four Disney Star Wars movies at $5 billion worldwide in pure theatrical grosses on a combined budget of around $1b. That’s still five times the budget in just worldwide theatrical, with no accounting for post-theatrical, merchandise or Disney’s sheer market share advantage.
So, let’s cool it on the calls that Disney has ruined Star Wars (they don’t produce the movies, that’s Lucasfilm’s responsibility). And doubly so on the cries for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired (me thinks the cries wouldn’t be so loud if Kathleen’s first name was Kevin). Here’s the good news: Lucasfilm has shown itself, for better or worse, as a company willing to vastly overspend, even on what was supposed to be a glorified one-off, to deliver what they think is the best possible movie.
I may take issue with that in some circumstances (King Arthur, Justice League, etc.), but over the long haul, it is a worthy investment to make sure that none of these new Star Wars movies are aggressively bad. Also, in the realm of good news, the new batch of Star Wars movies has had (presumably) its first real flop via the least artistically justifiable, most explicitly cynical and most comparatively generic offering yet. This is not unlike Pixar taking its first hit with the comparatively conventional The Good Dinosaur or Marvel’s only real flop being the artistically constrained and relatively weak The Incredible Hulk.
Solo is a decent enough movie, and so is (the visually gorgeous) The Good Dinosaur. But over the long run, it is better for a company to take their hits when they play it safe versus then when they color outside the lines of so-called conventional wisdom. If anything, the core flaw of Solo was that it was a conventional generic blockbuster (complete with a Alden Ehrenreich’s generic white-dude leading man, Emilia Clarke as his “feisty” love interest and Donald Glover as his cool/hip black sidekick) that was only an event movie for folks who felt that anything with the words “Star Wars” qualified as an event.
And that, in a nutshell, is why this Star Wars Story is something of a bomb, why it opened so far below its initial tracking and why the franchise overall will probably be okay. For the first time ever, a new, live-action, theatrical Star Wars movie wasn’t an event for moviegoers. In a world filled with Star Wars-sized fantasy spectacles, it was just another big movie, one that felt (fair or not) like one of those “wannabe superhero origin story” movies like King Arthur and Pan that have performed so poorly over the last several years.
But since Solo wasn’t the main event title (and since Disney has Marvel, Disney Animation and Pixar to keep them warm this year), the damage should be minimal. This wasn’t Justice League making less here and abroad than Man of Steel or Wonder Woman. This is, relatively speaking, Thor: The Dark World making less than half of what The Avengers earned. It’s not an exact comparison, but you get the idea. I’ve been saying for half-a-decade that these “young prequel character origin story” spin-offs were a bad idea. Now we have proof.
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