NOTE: Box office totals as of June 5, 2018
After only two weekends in theaters, it's safe to say Solo: A Star Wars Story will be remembered as the first box office failure in the franchise. Ever since Lucasfilm brought back their wildly successful property with The Force Awakens in 2015, they've been riding a commercial hot streak that was highly impressive. After Episode VII brought home a cool $2 billion worldwide, both Rogue One and The Last Jedi followed suit with $1 billion hauls of their own. The collective global gross of these three movies exceeded the $4 billion Disney paid for Lucasfilm, proving the Mouse House was smart to invest in the galaxy far, far away.
Since every Star Wars movie to this point was a clear hit, the expectation was that Solo would be one as well. Despite the infamous production difficulties and general sense of apathy surrounding the project, early projections had Ron Howard's spinoff breaking the Memorial Day opening record en route to a worldwide debut of $300 million. Unfortunately, these estimates couldn't be further from the truth, and Solo is on the path to losing money.
Why Did Solo Bomb At The Box Office?
There's no sugarcoating the fact that Solo's numbers aren't pretty. In 12 days of release, the film has earned just $155.9 million domestically and $271.3 million worldwide. At one point, it was supposed to gross $170 million Stateside in its first four days. Solo will now have an uphill climb to reach $250 million for its U.S. total and is expected to earn only $400 million worldwide. When it's all said and done, it'll put Disney at least $50 million in the red, depending on how home media, TV rights sales, and other revenue sources pan out. This is hardly what Lucasfilm had in mind when they green lit a movie centering around one of the franchise's most popular characters (admittedly, with a new actor in the role).
During the aftermath of Solo's performance, the main culprit to emerge is an uninspired marketing campaign, which failed to sell general audiences on why the prequel was a must-see. In stark contrast from the three preceding Star Wars films of this era (which had eight-month long marketing campaigns), promotion for Solo didn't start until much closer to release. In an effort to avoid pitting Solo against Last Jedi hype, Lucasfilm opted to not give people their first look at the film until the Super Bowl in February, roughly three months prior to the premiere. By then, there was such a negative narrative around Solo, the trailers and TV spots became easy to dismiss. It also didn't help matters the first promotional materials largely hid Alden Ehrenreich's Han and key story details.
Thinking they could coast by on the Star Wars name came back to hurt Lucasfilm, as they decided to debut Solo hot on the heels of Avengers: Infinity War ($257.6 million debut) and Deadpool 2 ($125.5 million debut). Both of those comic book movies were highly-anticipated sequels that were integral chapters in their respective franchises. Infinity War marked the culmination of the last 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while Deadpool 2 set the table for the upcoming X-Force (and was also the follow-up to the highest-grossing R-rated film of all-time). Since casual moviegoers typically see just a handful of titles per year, and many saw Infinity War and Deadpool 2 in close proximity, Solo was considered by the masses to be an easy one to skip. After all, there's only so much money to go around.
While probably not the biggest factor, it's also possible the generally positive reviews for Solo played a hand in it falling short commercially. The film's direct competition was Certified Fresh, but Solo has a much softer Rotten Tomatoes score of 71%. That on its own is a fine result (and better than some expected due to the reshoots), but since reactions weren't exactly glowing (and demand was questionable), it never jumped out as something viewers needed to see in theaters. For the first time, Star Wars was "just another summer film" rather than being one of the year's premier cinematic events. The lack of urgency for Solo is really what sunk it commercially, and its shortcomings give Lucasfilm several valuable lessons to learn.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019