Where the first three Disney “Star Wars” films were the top openers for their respective years, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” fell short of its lowest expectations with an $84 million, holiday-boosted, three-day total; that opening would place it outside the 10 best of 2017.
Instead, it may set another record as the first possible financial flop in the live-action “Star Wars” canon. Its theatrical worldwide gross will likely wind up a little north of $400 million — which is about what it cost in production and marketing. That means it will need another $150 million from other revenue streams before it can break even.
The summer ahead is loaded with sequels, remakes, and other IP offshoots, but it’s unlikely that they’ll suffer the same fate as “Solo.” Here’s why.
Movie budgets are set far in advance of release, and “Solo” went into pre-production just after “The Force Awakens” opened to record-breaking results. A few weeks after “Rogue One” showed the appeal of a standalone title, “Solo” went into production.
With that tertiary track record, greenlighting a budget over $200 million made sense. Disney saw how Marvel (and to a lesser extent, Warners and D.C. Comics) created side movies from established series. They chose a directing team who revitalized a stale TV concept with two “Jump Street” movies. “Deadpool” broke through as an unexpected hit while planning was underway, suggesting that it made sense to shift tones within an established framework.
Of course, that strategy came with risks, but the hope was any “Star Wars”-associated title had enough inherent interest to justify the risk. That risk increased exponentially with the drama over Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s firing, Ron Howard as replacement, and fans grumbling over Alden Eihenrich’s lack of physical resemblance to Harrison Ford as well as lingering disdain for “The Last Jedi” in some quarters.
That’s enough baggage to ground anyone, and no other summer title carries as much. (How could they?)
Domestic theaters care mostly about their own ticket sales, but they have a rooting interest in studios making profitable blockbusters — which means those with the promise of international appeal. By that ranking, “Solo” fell to the bottom of all franchise releases this summer. In an era when top titles’ foreign share is normally over 65 percent, the last three “Star Wars” titles ranged between 50 and 55 percent. So far, “Solo” stands at 40 percent foreign, with only Japan remaining as a top territory.
Other summer tentpoles, all of which cost less than “Solo,” have better foreign prospects. “Jurassic World” was 61 percent foreign, “Ant-Man” 65 percent (consistent with most Marvel titles), “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” was 71 percent. Animated titles vary, with Pixar at the lower end, but usually stand at 60 percent or more.
The (Relatively) Bulletproof
While “Solo” proved it’s unwise to take even the most sacred IP for granted, other summer tentpoles have multiple earmarks for success. Tom Cruise has failed other properties, but “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” looks like the summer’s safest bet. “Rogue Nation” came in around $200 million domestic in 2015, and did nearly as well as “Spectre” from the Bond series.
Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” isn’t R-rated like “Deadpool,” isn’t as surefire as “Avengers: Infinity War,” and doesn’t have unique feel like “Black Panther.” But its prime summer placement, the momentum from recent Marvel titles, and a comic sensibility should leave it well positioned.
The domestic release of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” opens in North America June 22, but by then it will be in theaters in most of the world (June 8), including China (June 15). The earlier international dates relate to competition from the summer’s biggest event: the World Cup begins June 14.
Spain’s J.A. Bayona oversaw this installment, a director who’s earned modest but favorable response for “The Orphanage,” “The Impossible,” and “A Monster Calls,” all of which were far bigger overseas. This film is a huge leap for him in budget (unreported, but 2015’s “Jurassic World” was in the $150 million range). This could be prone to some weariness the fourth time around, but sight unseen — and with the international draw strong — this looks like another safe bet.
Pixar’s “The Incredibles 2” comes 14 years after the original, which has an adjusted gross close to $400 million. It has been two years since the last massive Pixar hit (“Finding Dory,” also a summer sequel and common in Pixarland) It will be five months since the last animated film grossed over $100 million (“Peter Rabbit”); “Coco” passed $200 million last Christmas. It’s perfectly positioned to score with hungry family audiences. On that note, Sony has the third “Hotel Transylvania” entry in July, which should also do well.
The Budget Minded
“Ocean’s 8” has an all-star female cast, but it might be a riskier bet. Warners and producer Steven Soderbergh kept the reported budget to $70 million, about half the cost of “Ghostbusters.” That distaff reboot was the biggest-grossing comedy of 2016, but fell short because of costs. If this grosses the same worldwide — and the previous “Ocean’s” films have had strong international appeal — this should be fine. Still not a certain success, but it’s also one of the few big summer titles with a female tilt.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” has an international bent with Italian genre director Stefano Sollima stepping in for Denis Villeneuve. The first one had a $30 million budget; this one likely isn’t much higher. Low risk and foreign appeal should make this safe.
“Equalizer 2” repeats the Antoine Fuqua/Denzel Washington tandem of the first effort, including its mid-sized budget. The absence of domestic-oriented action titles and the principals’ reputations make this seem viable.