You may not like the ďbox office discussionĒ, you may be tired of it in fact. I get it. Star Wars: The Last Jedi to this day still has fans divided on Twitter and the message boards, and the conversations usually turn vile and a portion of that has to do with the perceived lack of success financially The Last Jedi had. And Iím not here to open that debate again, quite the opposite really, Iím here to suggest thereís another way to look at it.
Iím a box office nerd. I love the analytics of it and Iím fascinated about how it drives most of the decision-making process in Hollywood, more than anywhere else. Like it or not, its numbers and numbers donít lie. There not always fair, but they are honest. You buy a ticket, or you donít. The uber expensive PR firms will spend millions and millions of dollars to coax you into that decision, but ultimately itís up to you. And studios and studio heads are just as aware of this equation as we are.
Solo: A Star Wars Story made $85 million domestically this opening weekend ($103m 4-day) and the groaning both online and in cinema houses could be heard clear across the galaxy. That number, which most films could only dream of, represents a new low for a franchise that is used to setting new highs. Yes, itís a new high for Ron Howard and compared to other films, including MCU ones, itís a good number. But those two facts arenít likely to soften the blow for some executives when they write off Solo at the end of year or fans looking to pick a fight.
The Force Awakens sold 108 million tickets, compared to The Last Jedi which sold 67 million tickets. Thatís just math folks and as I stated, math doesnít lie. But there are reasons of course that go beyond whatís up on that screen and when youíre talking about a film that made $1.3 billion worldwide, the word failure doesnít register for me. Some people will lead you to believe it's as simple as, ďit was a bad Star Wars movieĒ or ďit suckedĒ and that was the reason for the dip, but thatís not true, and thatís not the whole story.
Itís a tricky business these days as fewer properties are fighting for the lionís share of the profits. Disney has more or less monopolized the box office as of late and that shows no signs of slowing up. Point is, they can afford a few write offs and the occasional slip up, where most cannot. Solo underperforming is not the end of the world by a long shot for this company as some will have you believe.
Star Wars up until now has been box office proof with the three Disney era films earning $4 billion and we all know how the previous six films performed at the box office, breaking records along the way. With Solo: A Star Wars Story underperforming at the North American box office and getting crushed overseas, it begs to ask the question, will this even matter? Will it have any affect on Disneyís long-term plans with regards to Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise?
This film is positioning itself to lose money for the company, something they are definitely not used to. But, thereís no doubt in my mind that they didnít see this coming, they signed the budget sheet after all. They knew releasing a movie that costs $250 - $300 million plus marketing this time of year, with the competition it would face, so soon after The Last Jedi, would have likely been a losing proposition. But was it? And why go ahead with it? The reason is surprisingly simple.
Essentially, Disney and Lucasfilm just carried out an extremely expensive data mining campaign, the results of which we wonít know for some time. They spent over $300 million to see where the fans lie on certain characters, certain story threads and certain issues. They spent this money to position themselves for a future beyond trilogies and projects that will have ramifications beyond the bottom line. If Solo: A Star Wars Story happened to make a butt load of money in process, all the better. But you must remember, things are already in motion that canít be undone, and Solo isnít about those projects, itís about potential projects that have yet to put into production. Projects such as potential Solo sequels, a Boba Fett standalone or how about a Kenobi project? If the surprise appearance at the end of Solo should generate enough buzz, perhaps that individual will garner a film of their own.
Star Wars can afford to lose a little if it means they get to gain a lot. Their overhead these days suggests theyíre going all in regardless of results, theyíre playing the long game. With two trilogies in the works, two TV series coming and more standalones on the way they plan on saturating the market betting the fans will continue to show up. It seems entirely possible weíll see more than one Star Wars film per year but will fans turn out for that? I would bet on yes, especially if the character selection and the storytelling is on point.
Will the results of Solo give them pause? Maybe, but doubtful. They can always lean on a short list of ďexcusesĒ why it underperformed if they feel the need. With China clearly still a mystery to them, itís the local draws that will probably scratch the most heads. Iíve read countless stories from fans sitting in empty houses for Solo, and Star Wars is primarily a North American phenomenon so that should give some people pause. But enough to alter the course? No way.
The truth is, Soloís weekend potentials were limited from the get go as a maelstrom of forces were working against it from day one, and thatís not even including the behind the scenes shenanigans.
There are always several reasons why a film underperforms at the box office. They include but are not limited to horrible scheduling, franchise fatigue and saturation, intolerable fan division and the product up on the screen. You can debate amongst yourselves how those divvy up, but I will suggest the final reason in Solo's case is the least of why this film under performed. Itís a good, solid, fun film and has wide appeal.
Letís face it, weíre spoiled a bit as Star Wars fans. Weíre so used to hearing about lines going on for miles when it comes to a Star Wars film or folks seeing an episode 2, 3 maybe 4 or more times, itís just a bit jarring and it will pass. Itís just a temporary case of bad optics, and bad optics can plague a franchise for a long time, just not this one.
I know folks want to entirely dismiss the box office results of Solo this weekend, but you must keep in mind, these kinds of losses would be a death knell for most other franchises or film prospects. And while Disney is mostly bulletproof when it comes to these matters, a loss is a loss. There are hundreds of films every year that donít even get made because thereís a whiff of a potential loss, not even actual ones.
And letís be honest, internationally, it didnít fare much better, worse in fact. With only $65 million in box office receipts including China this isnít the start Disney was hoping for. Even Disney executive Dave Hollis was scratching his head a bitÖ
ďWeíll spend a lot of time digging into every question in every market to get the answer. We came into the beginning of the year with this one of the most anticipated films. We gotta spend some time looking at the exits and get a better handle on all the questions.Ē
As someone who spends a fair amount of time tracking international box office, this isnít the usual spin companies put on less than expected takes. Itís worrisome to a degree but theyíve all but written off China anyways and the lower takes across the board are symptomatic of the reasons we listed above.
Is Solo: A Star Wars Story a bad film? No, itís not, not at all. Do box office results determine a filmís quality? Of course not, but they sure do keep many films, good and bad, from being made and thatís something we should all be worried about as film goers. But this is not a panic button situation here, not at all. Lucasfilm likely learned a lot more from these losses than they do from any gains they normally make. Itís how they apply these cathartics that will determine their worth in the end.
Itís a wait and see proposition and weíve got plenty of time to calm any storms created by yet another disappointing return, according to some. Theyíve collected something far more valuable than money for this company, and thatís information.
Till next timeÖMTFBWY.
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