Why “SOLO” Might Be the Most Impressive Bomb In Box Office History

Why “SOLO” Might Be the Most Impressive Bomb In Box Office History

In case you hadn’t heard, a Han Solo spinoff movie just came out – and it did not do well. It made about $84m over its opening weekend, and around $100m for the four day Memorial Day weekend. While $100m is a lot of money for some movies, it’s been viewed as something of a disappointment for Solo. How much of a disappointment? Maybe the most disappointing box office performance….ever.

1. It did worse than Justice League

Justice League’s miserable box office performance had become the thing of legend amongst people who obsess over that kind of stuff. The ongoing joke in the box office subreddit was how many “Justice Leagues” a movie would earn (e.g. given Justice League made $229m domestically, Avengers: Infinity War’s opening weekend was 1.12 Justice Leagues – or, $257m). It was a bomb of legend – DC’s answer to Marvel’s runaway megahit team-up films, and it was the DCEU’s worst performer, to such an extreme degree that it couldn’t even come close to the returns on the third Thor movie. It grossed $93.8 million in its opening weekend – an embarrassing start for a major blockbuster event film with such recognizable IP behind it.

Solo did $10 million worse than that.

While there’s nothing as hilariously bad in Solo as Henry Cavill’s uncanny valley smile, Solo has unseated Justice League as the go-to reference for insane, catastrophic box office bombing. The nickname in box office circles is “SoLow” (I know it’s lame, but these are people who equate money to quality, so give ’em a break) and DC fans have been chiming in at what a relief it is to no longer have to bear constant Justice League bashing (a dead horse that had been beaten too much, to be sure).


2. It’s probably going to do worse than every live action Star Wars movie ever…even without adjusting for inflation

Projections for Solo were – as of only a week or two ago – hovering around $130-150m for its opening weekend, which would have already been PRETTY below average for Star Wars in its Disney-owned phase. Rogue One has had the lowest opening of the Disney films – and even that opened at $150m. Solo opened to around 50% of that.

50% worse than the (previous) worst performer isn’t too great.

Obviously, this is a far cry from the main entries in the new sequel trilogy (both of which opened well north of $200 million), but the estimates for where this movie will actually end up paint an even more dire picture – many are predicting it won’t make it much past $200 million (domestically). See, big blockbusters these days tend to be front-loaded – by “front-loaded”, I mean that they make the biggest chunk of their money in their opening weekend, and then tend to peter out after that. A reasonable case scenario is that it makes it to around $200 million – which would make it the lowest domestic grossing Star Wars movie ever.


That part is pretty crazy – $1 in 1983 is the equivalent of about $2.50 today, meaning a film in 1983 would have to sell 250% more tickets to achieve the same gross total. $1 in 2002 is about $1.40 today. So the films in the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy SHOULD be at a pretty huge disadvantage against Solo, regardless of it underperforming. But they’re not. The single lowest grossing (live action) Star Wars film would be The Empire Strikes Back – which made it to $209 million (in its initial run, not including the Special Edition re-release) in 1980 dollars – which would be the equivalent of $423m today.

That is horrendous – Solo was released in about 4x the theaters as Empire Strikes Back (4400 theaters vs. 1300 theaters), has inflation on its side, a massive marketing campaign, AND a huge increase in US population…and still could wind up losing.


3. It might be the most expensive Star Wars movie of all-time

Here’s the thing: no one REALLY knows how much Solo cost. Low-end estimates are around $250m(which would be on par with recent Avengers films) – which is a lot higher than Disney wanted the budget to land at. Originally, the budget was around $180-200m – a pretty absurd budget to begin with for a Han Solo movie, but not out of the ordinary for most blockbusters these days. That is, until directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller was unceremoniously fired after completing 90% of the film and new director Ron Howard was brought in and added about three months to the shooting schedule. Realistically, the budget could be significantly higher – maybe even $300m (given the post-production schedule for the film was ALSO tightened – the special effects and editing teams had three less months to work on the completed footage than expected).

Regardless, at $250m budget, Solo would be the most expensive Star Wars film to date. The Force Awakens previously held that title (at $245m), and it would make sense than the follow-up – The Last Jedi – cost a bit less, given it didn’t have the massive production complications that The Force Awakens suffered (namely having to put the entire production on pause for six weeks when Harrison Ford broke his leg). To be the MOST EXPENSIVE Star Wars film ever AND do the worst at the box office is….not a great place to be.


4. Its international box office is just as huge of a bummer – if not MORE SO

The savior of many blockbuster films that underperform in the US as of late has been the international market – success in China is what keeps bringing on the Transformers films, and the whole reason we actually got a Pacific Rim sequel (regardless of how that one turned out). And while the percentage the studios take home is typically less than what they bring in domestically, the sheer amount of money coming in from overseas typically makes it worthwhile. The Last Jedi brought in over $700m internationally – more than it made domestically! So – at least Solo can count on the broader world market to make up for its failing in the US, right?

WRONG. Solo is collapsing internationally just as bad – if not worse. One issue the Star Wars franchise has run into as of late is that it can’t tap into the same nostalgia worldwide as it does in the US – China never saw the original films until very recently, so their attachment is simply far less than what exists here. And with so many of the films relying on nostalgia at their very core – returning cast members, familiar characters and settings, lots of callbacks, etc. – this has proven to be a major liability for the brand.

Solo debuted to around $65m internationally – including China. These things are always a little hard to gauge, because films open in different markets at different times – and Solo only opened in a dozen or so countries this week (whereas some films – like Avengers: Infinity War – opened worldwide all at the same time). But looking at each individual country it opened in, the results were incredibly disappointing. China – the biggest film market outside the US – only had the film grossing about $9m….and it’s not expected to get much higher than that (US films in China only get a few weekends to make their money, and the vast bulk of that money is made in its opening weekend). To give the Chinese release a bit more context – its opening weekend had it place 3rd, behind Avengers: Infinity War (which has been out in China for about 3 weeks already).

Also, they didn’t even really market it as a Star Wars movie – the brand means so little in China, they titled it “Ranger Solo.” Not a great sign.


5. It’s blowing up Disney’s plans for Star Wars as a whole

This is all adding up to the point that Solo could wind up with a worldwide gross of under $400m – making it the first Disney Star Wars film to gross under a billion dollars…AND BY $600M NO LESS. That’s a MASSIVE downturn – and people can speculate endlessly about the causes – Star Wars fatigue, behind-the-scenes shenanigans, an underwhelming concept, poor marketing, TLJ backlash, etc. The point is, something went HORRENDOUSLY wrong with Solo, to the degree that Disney is now rethinking their entire Star Wars strategy.

Star Wars – which for a while, looked like the most guaranteed blockbuster money machine around – is faltering, so Disney is re-evaluating their entire approach. And what choice do they have? This is likely going to be the first Star Wars film to ever LOSE MONEY – the amount spent on production and marketing is going to far outweigh whatever money is brought in no matter what (the general rule of thumb being that a film needs to make about double what it spent on production and marketing to be profitable). The plummet Solo is experiencing compared to The Last Jedi only a few months ago is incredibly telling – Star Wars in and of itself is no longer the guaranteed hit everyone assumed it was.

The recently announced Boba Fett film being developed by James Mangold? The new trilogies being handled by Rian Johnson and DB Weiss & David Benioff? The new TV series being worked on by Jon Favreau? None of it is certain anymore – after all, the only Star Wars film actually in real production at the moment is JJ Abrams’ Episode IX. All Disney has been willing to say so far are a few quotes from distribution chief Dave Hollis:

“We have a lot of work to do in trying to understand this. We are all over it and will spend a lot of time digging into why things happened the way they did in various markets. We have a year and a half before Episode IX comes out.”

Disney has never been anything but relentlessly confident about Star Wars – as they should have been! They released three films in a row that grossed over a billion dollars each (two of which went WELL over a billion). Now….things are different. At the very least, it seems like Disney will back away from Marvel’s philosophy of releasing multiple films within the same year timespan. But it speaks to the reality that Lucasfilm/Disney are probably a bit uncertain themselves – again, they don’t have ANY films in active development outside of Episode IX. No release dates, no production schedules, nothing. Maybe the production troubles on Solo (and Rogue One) have given them pause? Maybe they were waiting to see how Solo performed before going forward with Boba Fett?

Who knows – all we know is that Star Wars is badly battered at the moment, but at least (spoiler alert!) Han shot first has finally been brought back.

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