Solo and Justice League Had Totally Different Objectives
Some movies succeed, and some movies fail. It happens. For mega-brands like Star Wars, one underwhelming box office performer isn't going to sink the whole franchise. That being said, studios and fans place more importance on certain movies in a given series. In the case of Marvel Studios, it had been said that they were going to go through with The Avengers even if Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger failed to break out at the box office. But if The Avengers itself had failed, then the MCU would surely not exist today. At least not in its current state.
For Warner Brothers, Justice League was their Avengers, to the point where they brought on MCU director Joss Whedon to write and direct the film's extensive reshoots. This was a $200 million (later bumped up to $300 million) culmination of everything leading up to it, from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to Wonder Woman (and, to a much lesser extent, Suicide Squad). All roads led to this point, much in the same way all roads from the MCU led to 2012's The Avengers, and, more recently, Avengers: Infinity War.
In the case of the MCU, The Avengers brought in an incredible $1.5 billion dollars worldwide back in 2012. In 2017, even after five years of inflation, Justice League could only scrape up $657 million in worldwide ticket sales. For a film which had its sights set on nothing less than $1 billion, this result was nothing less than a financial failure.
If Justice League was a high-stakes endeavor with everything riding on it, then Solo started out as the exact opposite. With its relatively low stakes (there's nary a planet-killing superweapon to be seen here) and intimate focus on the development of its core characters, Solo was never aspiring to be as big of an event as mainline saga films like The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, or even fellow "A Star Wars Story," Rogue One. This is indicated by its original budget, which was well below the price tag of most big-time blockbusters.
Following the late-in-the-game director switch, which resulted in Lucasfilm and Disney getting one movie for the price of two, the internal pressure was on Solo to over-perform, but the film was never marketed as anything more than "just another Star Wars tale." That approach may have worked for Rogue One, which was seen as a surprise hit back in 2016, but for Solo, the fourth Star Wars film since the franchise was revived in 2015, it wasn't enough.
Had Solo's budget not doubled in the span of a year, then its four-day Memorial Day gross of $103 million wouldn't have been seen as a failure; it would have been a great start for the "street-level" Star Wars spin-off. As it is, Solo faced unrealistic expectations it couldn't possibly meet; Solo wasn't Justice League, wasn't the culmination of any prior works, or even a direct prequel to A New Hope like Rogue One; it is a stand-alone anthology film set in one tiny corner of the Star Wars universe. Asking Solo to perform on par with Rogue One would be like asking Spider-Man: Homecoming to perform comparably to Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Civil War.
The Future of Star Wars and the DCEU
The big question moving forward for both Star Wars and the DCEU is this: how will the performance of Justice League/Solo affect their franchises moving forward?
In the case of Justice League, the DCEU is in the unenviable position of having to reinvent itself immediately after its first team-up film, leaving Aquaman in the tough spot of reinvigorating the franchise. After that, the DCEU slate will see a sort of palate cleanser with Shazam!, followed by Wonder Woman 2, the sequel to the franchise's only unequivocal commercial and critical hit, in 2019. Things are certainly looking up, but instead of racing toward a highly anticipated Justice League 2, the franchise hit a reset button and is starting again from ground zero.
As for Solo, whether it does well or not doesn't really matter much in the long run. Even if Disney loses a big pile of money on the swashbuckling adventure film, it's hard to see them attempting any type of "course correction." Solo was a one-off story, not the endgame for an entire franchise. At this point, the worst case scenario is that Disney avoids scheduling more than one Star Wars film per year, and that doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.
There's no getting around the fact that both Solo and Justice League switched directors mid-production, leading to larger-than-expected budgets which resulted in disappointing box office results, but that's where the comparisons end. Justice League and Solo are not cut from the same cloth. They are two completely different movies which hold distinct positions within their respective franchises, and trying to equate the two films is an exercise in futility and misinformation.
Comparing Justice League to Solo: A Star Wars Story is like comparing apples to oranges, or fitting square pegs into round holes, or comparing shooting womp rats to launching torpedoes at a thermal exhaust port. It's not remotely the same, even if they're both about two meters wide!
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020