Disney could be feeling a big disturbance in the force as “Solo: A Star Wars Story” was hit this Memorial Day weekend by an overcrowded May with many of their own films including “Deadpool 2” which dropped to a second place after a huge opening weekend. Yes, $83.3 million is a huge sum for any franchise film, but when you’re talking about “Star Wars,” that’s a whole other story. Even overseas markets turned a thumbs down with ticket sales stalling at $65 million.
In the largest disturbance yet in Disney’s otherwise lucrative reign over “Star Wars,” the Han Solo spinoff “Solo: A Star Wars Story” opened well below expectations with a franchise-low $83.3 million in ticket sales over the three-day weekend in North American theaters.
Disney estimated Sunday that “Solo” will gross $101 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend, a figure below even the opening weekends of the much-derided “Star Wars” prequels. Last week, forecasts ran as high as $150 million for the four-day haul of “Solo.”
“Solo,” which cost Disney and its Lucasfilm division at least $400 million to make and market worldwide, will collect roughly $101 million over the entire Memorial Day weekend in North America, according to comScore. Disney had been hoping that the movie, focused on a young Han Solo and directed by Ron Howard, would take in closer to $140 million.
In comparison, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” generated $155 million over its first three days in theaters in 2016. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” arrived to $220 million in December.
So what exactly happened?
Multiplex gridlock, for a start. “Solo” arrived in the shadow of the Death Star — “Avengers: Infinity War” — and hot on the heels of “Deadpool 2” (20th Century Fox – see our review here). “Deadpool 2” placed second over the weekend, taking in $42.7 million between Friday and Sunday, for a two-week domestic total of about $207.4 million. “Infinity War” (Disney) was third, collecting $16.5 million, for a five-week total of $622 million.
Overseas ticket sales were even worse. “Solo,” starring Alden Ehrenreich in the role made iconic by Harrison Ford, grossed $65 million internationally in its opening weekend, including a paltry $10.1 million in China.
“Of course we would have hoped for this to be a bit bigger,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief. “We’re encouraged by the response that people have had to the film. It got a good CinemaScore (A-minus). The exits are very encouraging.”
“Solo” came in with a Millennium Falcon’s worth of baggage following the mid-production firing of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were replaced by Ron Howard. With the rejiggered production, the budget soared well past $250 million.
But the cause of the spinoff’s disappointing performance may have had as much to do with “Star Wars” fatigue (“The Last Jedi” exited theaters just last month) and the stiffer competition of a summer holiday weekend. While no major releases dared to open against “Solo,” Fox’s “Deadpool 2″ moved its release date up a week ahead of “Solo.”
The gambit may have hurt both releases. After debuting with $125 million last weekend, the R-rated Ryan Reynolds sequel dropped 66 percent to second place with $42.7 million and an estimated $53.5 million four-day haul.
“Solo” notched the biggest Memorial Day weekend opening in several years, but it also came on the heels of a pair of a summer-sized blockbusters — “Deadpool 2″ and Disney’s own “Avengers Infinity War” — making for an unusually crowded May. “Infinity War” added $16.5 million in its fifth weekend to bring its domestic total to $621.7 million and its global sales to $1.9 billion — both among the highest of all-time.
“It is a business that is built on momentum but also one where people probably are only able to get to theaters a certain number of weeks in a row,” said Hollis.
But there were also questions beyond the effect the calendar had on “Solo.” While reviews were generally positive (71 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), there was little about “Solo” that made the movie a must-see event.
Fans were skeptical of Ehrenreich and uncertain about the dismissal of Lord and Miller (the popular filmmaking duo behind “21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie”). Unlike any “Star Wars” release before, “Solo” was deemed — gasp — skippable. Some fans went into meltdown mode with creative decisions that were made on “The Last Jedi.”
Disney is attempting to pull off a complicated generational handoff — trying to please older fans while paying keen attention to millennials and children in a bid to keep the property healthy over the long term.
As it arrived in theaters, Disney might have been wishing it had instead made a Lando Calrissian spinoff with the red-hot Donald Glover, the star of TV’s “Atlanta.” In the days ahead of release, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said a Lando movie is a possibility.
While the original “Star Wars” films helped define the summer moviegoing experience, Disney released their previous three “Star Wars” films in December. What most hurt “Solo” was the “fatigue factor” of a May “Star Wars” film following a December one, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore.
“It’s the compressed timeframe between the two ‘Star Wars’ films and the highly competitive nature of this marketplace. It is summer, after all,” said Dergarabedian. “The good news is that the next film isn’t until December 2019. That’s plenty of breathing space. I think part of the allure of the ‘Star Wars’ brand in the past has been the long wait.”
That time might also be valuable for Lucasfilm and Disney to find a way to counter the diminishing returns of its multi-billion-dollar franchise. To help propel “Solo” internationally, Disney brought the film to Cannes Film Festival, flooding the French film festival’s red carpet with Storm Troopers.
“The Last Jedi” also flopped in China (it was pulled from theaters after a week), and Rian Johnson’s movie — even though it grossed $1.3 billion worldwide — showed relatively weak legs at the box office, while proving divisive among “Star Wars” die-hards.
The magic around a “Star Wars” film may be fading. To right the ship on Episode 9, Lucasfilm has turned to an old friend: “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams. He, too, is replacing a fired director after Colin Trevorrow departed last fall.
Could it be ‘franchise fatigue?’ It doesn’t seem to be happening to Marvel’s Avengers MCU world, but as “The Last Jedi” hit big screens only five months ago closing the usual year-long gap between “Star Wars” films.
“‘Star Wars’ fans have an enormous sense of ownership, which works to the benefit of the movie company and to the detriment,” said Steve Sansweet, the president of Rancho Obi-Wan, a nonprofit “Star Wars” memorabilia museum, and the former head of fan relations for Lucasfilm. “There is a growing feeling among fans that the movies are starting to come out a little too frequently.”
As with the James Bond series, perhaps less is more?
Disney disagrees, noting that Marvel movies come out at even shorter intervals — “Thor: Ragnarok” in November, “Black Panther” in February, “Infinity War” in April.
“We’re going to judge ‘Solo’ by where we finish rather than where we start,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s president of theatrical distribution. “The base is a little smaller than we had hoped for, but it’s very respectable, and there is no substantial competition for the next couple weekends.” Moviegoers gave “Solo” an A-minus grade in CinemaScore exit polls.
Some box office analysts said it was unfair to expect every “Star Wars” movie to be a juggernaut, especially now that pent-up demand has worn off: Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, and when it restarted the franchise with “The Force Awakens” in 2015, it was the first new live-action installment in a decade.
“Using the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an example, there will be films with box office returns like ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ but there will also be films with returns like ‘Ant-Man,’” said Wade Holden, an analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “Ant-Man” arrived to $57.2 million in initial ticket sales in 2015.
Lucasfilm has at least nine more “Star Wars” films in the works. The untitled follow-up to “The Last Jedi” is scheduled for December 2019. The director Rian Johnson is working on a trilogy focused on new characters. Another expected trilogy is moving ahead under the leadership of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the duo behind “Game of Thrones.”
At the same time, the director James Mangold (“Logan”) is pushing ahead with a stand-alone movie focused on Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who made his movie debut in “The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980. An Obi-Wan Kenobi movie has also been in development.
Disney is also spending billions to build “Star Wars” areas at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The filmmaker Jon Favreau is working on a live-action “Star Wars” television series for Disney’s planned streaming service. Disney Channel, which has suffered ratings declines, has high hopes for “Star Wars Resistance,” an anime-inspired series that will arrive in the fall.
Despite the lower-than-expected debut of “Solo,” box office analysts predict that summer 2018 will generate roughly $4.3 billion in ticket sales, a 14 percent increase over last year.
Summer 2017 was terrible: Domestic ticket sales fell 16 percent, to $3.78 billion, compared to a year earlier, the result of a string of sputtering sequels — the fifth “Transformers,” the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the eighth “Alien” — and poorly made reboots like “The Mummy” and “Baywatch.”
It was the slowest summer since 1995 when “Pocahontas” was a top draw. After adjusting for inflation, the summer of 1995 had about $3.76 billion in ticket sales. Hollywood’s summer stretches from the first weekend in May to Labor Day and typically accounts for 40 percent of annual ticket sales.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is expected to lead this year’s comeback. “Fallen Kingdom” finds workers racing to save disobliging dinosaurs from an erupting volcano. (Some people in Hollywood have joked that the recent eruption of Kilauea on Hawaii was the handiwork of Michael Moses, Universal’s marketing chief.) “Jurassic World” took in about $652 million at domestic theaters in summer 2015.
Disney is expected to have two more blockbusters by the season’s end, with Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” and Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” both generating strong advance interest. “The other major studios appear to have mostly ceded the summer to Disney,” Doug Creutz, a media analyst at Cowen and Company, wrote in an April report.
For the first time in years, Warner Bros. has a superhero-free summer. (Unless you count the animated “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.”) Instead, Warner will rely on “Ocean’s 8,” which seeks to revive the “Ocean’s Eleven” heist series with an all-female leading cast. Warner has also teamed with a Chinese company on “The Meg,” a cheese-tastic monster shark movie scheduled for an Aug. 10 release.
“This may be short-term smart as it avoids having an expensive film crushed by Disney’s juggernauts,” Mr. Creutz added. “On the other hand, you can’t win if you don’t play.”
Sony Pictures appears to have three hit sequels on its schedule (“Hotel Transylvania 3,” “The Equalizer 2” and “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”), but there are questions about the viability of Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” the sixth chapter in that 22-year-old Tom Cruise franchise.
As superhero movies have become more comedic, traditional comedies have had a harder time breaking through at the box office. That trend could continue. “Tag,” an R-rated guys-who-refuse-to-grow-up movie, is likely to get trampled by “Incredibles 2.” Both arrive on June 15.
Analysts have higher hopes for “Crazy Rich Asians,” an effort to breathe new life into the romantic-comedy genre by aiming at an underserved audience. The Warner film has an all-Asian leading cast.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Tuesday.
- “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” $83.3 million ($65 million international).
- “Deadpool 2,” $42.7 million ($57 million international).
- “Avengers: Infinity War,” $16.5 million ($32.5 million international).
- “Book Club,” $9.5 million.
- “Life of the Party,” $5.1 million.
- “Breaking In,” $4.1 million.
- “Show Dogs,” $3.1 million.
- “Overboard,” $3 million ($2.3 million international).
- “A Quiet Place,” $2.2 million ($4.7 million international).
- “RBG,” $1.2 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:
- “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” $65 million.
- “Deadpool 2,” $57 million.
- “Avengers: Infinity War,” $32.5 million.
- “How Long Will I Love U,” $24.3 million.
- “Believer,” $10.4 million.
- “A Quiet Place,” $4.7 million.
- “Blumhouse’s Truth Or Dare,” $3.3 million.
- “Perfetti Sconosciuti,” $2.8 million.
- “Peter Rabbit,” $2.4 million.
- “Overboard,” $2.3 million.