Solo: A Star Wars Story has dropped a disastrous 77.2% from Friday-to-Friday in its first week at the box office - a decline that means it's now unlikely to break even at the box office. The prequel movie stars Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo, and explores his troubled early life and the events that drew him into the galaxy's criminal underworld. Reviews have been generally positive, if somewhat lukewarm, and the movie definitely seems to be less divisive among Star Wars fans than The Last Jedi was. However, Solo got off to a weak start (for a Star Wars movie) with an $83 million opening weekend, and things are not improving.
Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 and quickly announced a new trilogy, later developing plans for anthology spinoff movies to release in between main series entries. For the first few years the franchise seemed unstoppable, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens topping $2 billion worldwide and the next two films both crossing the $1 billion mark. However, Solo hit a serious speedbump when directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired three weeks before the end of principal photography and Ron Howard was brought in to reshoot and complete the movie. This move blew the budget up to more than $250 million - an even bigger pricetag than The Force Awakens.
That massive budget meant that Solo needed to be a considerable hit just to break even. But after a lower-than-expected opening weekend, the movie has now grossed just $8 million on Friday, and is set to earn around $28m in its second weekend - less than half of what box office analysts were expecting. That means that Solo is on track to for a $148 million ten-day total. The last spinoff movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, grossed $155 million in its opening weekend alone.
Solo's second weekend numbers are particularly concerning because, aside from the lingering success of Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2, there's no real competition to be blamed. Studios understandably wanted to steer clear of a Star Wars movie, so this weekend's new releases are smaller movies like Action Point and Upgrade. Next week will bring Ocean's Eight, which is tracking to open with $30 million, and then the grace period will officially end when The Incredibles 2 lands in mid-June, followed by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom the next week. Forbes estimates that in a best case scenario Solo will manage to scrape $210-215 million domestically, making it the lowest-grossing movie in the Star Wars franchise - even without adjusting for inflation.
Movies that perform poorly at the domestic box office can sometimes manage to break even thanks to overseas success. 2016's Warcraft is an extreme example of this - grossing a mere $47 million at the domestic box office, but managing $433 million worldwide, mostly thanks to its success in China. But unlike the Marvel movies, Star Wars doesn't have a strong pull at the Chinese box office, and Disney's franchise entries so far have had an approximate 50-50 split between domestic and international box office. Optimistically, Solo is looking at ending its theatrical run with $400-450 million worldwide.
Studios tend to be very secretive about the costs of marketing and distribution, and Disney is no exception, but the general rule of thumb is that in order to break even a movie needs to gross double its production budget at the box office - in Solo's case, at least $500 million. There may be some wiggle room in the fact that the budget was bigger than originally planned, and Solo was marketed more like a $125 million movie than a $250 million movie, but realistically it's unlikely to turn a profit at the box office.
That doesn't mean that Solo will mark a financial loss for Disney; there's still merchandise and home video sales to take into account (though the audience indifference to the movie at the box office will likely be reflected in those figures as well). Disney can afford one flop, thanks to the success of the previous entries, but it can't afford to let Solo be the start of a trend. We'll have to wait until the release of Star Wars: Episode IX next year to find out if Solo was a bad omen, or just a temporary setback.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019