On its face, a $71 million Fri-Sun figure was a terrific number for an opening weekend. But coming off Shrek the Third which opened with $121m that same pre-Memorial Day weekend in 2007, the 58%-smaller launch of Shrek Forever After came off as something of a bust. And since the previous Shrek movie wasn’t terribly leggy ($322m from a $121m debut), there was a reason to fear the worst and wonder if this Shrek movie would even crack $200m domestic. But then Shrek Forever After, buoyed by a weak June slate (where the movies were so bad that The Karate Kidfelt like an Oscar contender) and the still-strong 3D advantage, legged it out to $238m domestic and eventually earned $752m worldwide on a $165m budget.
Ditto Star Trek into Darkness which opened to $83 million over its Thurs-Sun debut compared to the $79m Fri-Sun launch of Star Trek. The Kirk v Khan sci-fi sequel legged it out to $228m domestic in the summer of 2013, not far off from the 2009 Star Trek’s $256m domestic cume. Yes, it was in 3D this time and it earned a still-not-super $467m worldwide on a $190m budget, but the story wasn’t done after its slightly underwhelming opening weekend. Even Star Wars: The Phantom Menace dealt with a week of “Why did it only make $105m in five days?” chatter before it soared past the $200m mark in a then-record 13 days back in 1999.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, there are enough cases of a film opening a bit below expectations only to recover after its opening weekend and make good on its initial promise. It’s somewhat rare, especially in this frontloaded and Netflix-and-Chill era, but it does happen from time (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) to time (Batman Begins). All of this brings us to Solo: A Star Wars Story. At a glance, a $35.6 million opening day is flat-out terrible for the first day of a new Star Wars movie. It’s lower than the Thursday figures for Force Awakens ($57m) and Last Jedi ($45m) and just above the $29m Thursday previews for Rogue One in 2016.
If the Star Wars prequel/origin story plays like a “normal” Memorial Day release, then the initial Friday numbers are pretty awful. Memorial Day weekend releases tend to do around 3x their Friday number and then earn around 2-2.25x their four-day debut figures. So, if Solo plays like a “normal” Memorial Day release, we’re looking at a $111m Fri-Mon debut and a domestic total of around $221-$250m. So, yes, considering the additional expenses incurred by the reshoots and the likely lack of overseas rescue that would make a $250m domestic gross a mere stepping stone to a $700m+ global cume, the odds are pretty grim for this Star Wars story.
The much-discussed and much-dissected Han Solo origin story movie opened yesterday with $35.6 million on its first day of release. That includes a $14m Thursday, which is a record for a Memorial Day preview gross. Solo earned 39% of its opening day figures before the day actually began, which is lower than the over/under 41% earned via Thursday previews of Disney’s first three Star Wars movies. Five years ago, we all discussed the $38m opening day of Fast and Furious 6 over Memorial Day weekend 2013 as if it were an unqualified mega-hit. And indeed it was. But if Solo performs like Furious 6($97m Fri-Sun/$117m Fri-Mon/$238m domestic total), will it be a disappointment or an outright disaster?
Well, reshoots and a director swap sent the budget soaring, Memorial Day weekend releases are often lucky to get even 2.5x the holiday opening and overseas figures aren’t necessarily making up the difference. Fast and Furious 6 (and the various X-Menand Pirates sequels) earned large chunks of their cash overseas, while Star Wars has always been a domestic-concentrated franchise. So if it “bombs” in North America, Disney and friends can’t count on foreign box office to save its butt. How exactly will we look at a Star Wars movie, even one that wasn’t “main event” attraction, that potentially makes less worldwide than Justice League ($657 million), Logan($619m) or Ready Player One ($580m)?
The film may “recover” over the family-friendly weekend to the for a 2.9x multiplier (The Day After Tomorrow) and a $104 million Fri-Sun/$124m Fri-Mon haul. It could leg like Bruce Almighty, Pearl Harbor and The Lost World for an over/under $145m four-day opening. But being realistic, if it performs like an X-Men sequel, At World’s End or Fast and Furious 6, we’re looking at a $90-95m Fri-Sun/$105-$115m Fri-Mon debut weekend. Legs like Dead Men Tell No Tales at least gets it to $120m for the holiday. To be fair, if it legs it to $120m for the weekend and then legs it like Men in Black 3 (2.5x) to $320m domestic, this becomes a different conversation.
The idea of a young Han Solo movie was always both not-terribly exciting to fans and counterintuitive to the promise of Walt Disney making new Star Wars movies and especially stand-alone Star Wars spin-offs. The idea was for new/interesting directors to play in the Star Warssandbox, not for an elder statesmen director like (all due respect) Ron Howard to direct a Han Solo prequel flick. Fair or not, the firing of Chris Lord and Phil Miller dampened much of what enthusiasm remained for this cynical/irrelevant project. Even though it’s a pretty good movie, the reviews were merely okay and it wasn’t an event. It was surrounded by genuine event movies, including a Disney giant (Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2) on each side.
In a skewed way, the $1 billion+ success of Rogue One (and the $2b+ success of The Force Awakens) may have created both unrealistic expectations and the need to somewhat formalize the new wave of Star Wars movies. Had Rogue One made $600-$800 million, it would have set the tone for a franchise where the “episodes” score sky-high box office while the Star Wars Story movies are less-conventional/more offbeat movies that aren’t expected to rule the world. Absent its sadly timely politics that made it “the movie we need right now,” Rogue One might have done just that. But going from three $1 billion+ grossers to an installment that may struggle to hit $600m is a horrible look.
That a vocal minority skewed the narrative of the well-reviewed and mostly well-received The Last Jediso that its $1.33 billion gross was viewed as a failure didn’t help. Nor did the online narrative around Rian Johnson’s sequel being that it disappointed fans by being too different/bold/unconventional or too “politically correct.” That was frustrating both to those who really liked Last Jedi and to those who didn’t like it for subjectively valid reasons entirely unrelated to the gender parity and racial makeup of its cast. Now what should have been either a victory lap after three-straight $1b+ grossers or an acceptable mulligan is going to only add to the “Egad, Star Wars is doomed” drumbeat.
Fox moving Deadpool 2 one week prior to Solo (as opposed to one week after) may have hurt. Wade Wilson is an unapologetic version of the kamikaze/devil-may-care anti-hero while young Han Solo was the “safe for all audiences” version. Think if Hollywood released a James Bond Jr. movie just one week after a new James Bond flick. If this goes bad, like a domestic total just over/under the $248 million opening weekend of The Force Awakens, that doesn’t mean Star Wars is doomed. It does mean that, in a world where Star Wars isn’t the only mega-bucks movie event franchise, just slapping “Star Wars” on an otherwise generic space adventure movie/origin story isn’t going to cut it.
Disney is drowning in MCU money and is about to get more from Pixar. If a bunch of huge franchises can’t compensate for an occasional foul ball, what’s the point of having a bunch of big franchises? Star Wars IX will still be big, and at worst Lucasfilm can release one “big” Star Wars movie every two-to-three years. When lifelong Star Wars fans ruefully admit that they just aren’t psyched to see the newest Star Wars movie, especially one that cost as much as $300 million thanks to reshoots (shades of Justice League), maybe these “young original trilogy character” prequels aren’t the way to go. They never were, but now we might (pending post-debut legs) have proof.