5 Ways to Prep - Solo: A Star Wars Story
By George Rose
May 24, 2018
The earliest results are in for the war between Deadpool 2 and Solo, and they are… still tied. We expected both to open around $150 million with DP2 already falling short with $125 million. This is still a fantastic result but helps give ground back to Solo. Except, Solo’s reviews are barely above 70% positive which is a full letter grade below DP2. Many think this will have an impact on Solo’s future and have already begun lowering expectations. At this point we’re all just praying for a $150+ million Memorial Day weekend for the latest Star Wars adventure. There was once a time when both were aiming for $400 - 500 million totals, but now $300+ million isn’t a guarantee. Is it just me or are May’s biggest movies a bit disappointing?
Granted, Avengers: Infinity War has a $600+ million head start on Summer and it’s hard to deny that number hasn’t eaten into the latest Hollywood offerings. Then again, Black Panther just kicked Spring off with a $700 million hit. Is Avengers really doing that great after breaking the biggest opening weekend record? A once practically unknown Marvel hero and a former box office dumping ground of a season have the capacity to make even Infinity War look small. Well, smaller, but you get what I’m saying. There’s still a chance for the newest Avengers blockbuster to break the $700 million barrier, with it’s probable $2 billion worldwide total making domestic numbers less relevant. As much as I’d love to dive deeper into Avengers, that’s not the war we’re discussing. With DP2 falling short of DP1 and Solo possibly looking to be the lowest grossing Star Wars franchise flick in decades, it seems expectations aren’t being met.
Remember back in 2007 when we had three of the greatest modern franchises ending their trilogies in unison? Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 all debuted in May, all barely broke the $300 million barrier and all were considered underwhelming at best. Spider-Man 3 even broke the opening weekend record with the first $150 million debut but was still the lowest earner in the series. International numbers helped all three franchises save face but, let’s be honest, inflation has made it so that even $300 million isn’t all that impressive with the right brand behind it. When a horror movie does it, we rejoice! When a superhero or Jedi do it, we patiently wait for another $100 million before getting excited. Of the three from 2007, the lowest was Pirates 3 with $309 million. In 2018 dollars, that’s just over $410 million.
DP2 won’t but Solo still could. The Last Jedi broke $600 million while Rogue One broke $500 million. The gap between what a primary Skywalker feature and a Star Wars Saga film can earn is shrinking. I originally would expect Solo - what with Harrison Ford’s classic scoundrel being one of sci-fi’s greatest bad asses - to rise above Rogue One while maybe peaking below Last Jedi. That means a $550 - $575 million total, which is not going to happen here. Passable reviews, a highly publicized change of directors and a slim six-month gap since the last Star Wars have Solo flying lower than we’ve hoped for all year. But that’s the thing about Star Wars, it’s all about hope. Fanboy fatigue seems to have already set in but anything is possible when we’re talking about a galaxy far, far away. For now, here’s how we’re prep to enjoy it.
#1) STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
Despite the title, Empire is the second Star Wars movie to ever grace the silver screen. We had already met Luke, Leia and Han Solo in their first adventure back in 1977. At this point, I’d say discussing the history of Star Wars is a bit redundant. As we all know, Empire is regarded as the critical crown jewel of the franchise (although it was as divisive back then as Last Jedi is now) and is also where we first meet Lando Calrissian. Since we’re about to watch Solo introduce us to how/when Han first meets his friends Chewbacca and Lando, Empire makes the most sense for a pre-weekend watch. They do all team up again, though, in Return of the Jedi.
What makes this band of smugglers truly enticing is the double-cross. Modern day audiences know that Han is a sly troublemaker from his most recent dealings in The Force Awakens and older audiences know that Lando is the same in Empire. The sooner you learn that both of these men are boldface liars, the sooner you can get in on the action and try to watch their con artistry in real time. I’m sure the new flick will kick things right off with a double-cross, with Solo running from one trouble right into the next where he’ll meet Chewie, Lando or both. Regardless of the Luke-warm reviews for Solo (see what I did there?), I will definitely be at the theater this weekend watching my favorite sci-fi bad boys get their gamble on.
#2) INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
Here’s the thing about expectations: we have the power to change them. If we compare Solo’s possible $300+ million total to Empire’s original $209 million total, we will be very happy with the result. If we adjust Empire for inflation, the new $722 million total will surely put Solo (and Last Jedi) to shame. However, as you should know by now, Star Wars Saga films are not expected to do the same damage as a main-line Skywalker film. Solo is a classic character but we just saw Han in Force Awakens. Curiosity and Christmas carried Rogue a long way, while Last Jedi definitely put a damper on Star Wars for a few people. Let’s look at another classic Harrison Ford character and his recent return to the big screen for help in predicting Solo’s outcome. The first Indiana Jones unearthed a massive $212 million in 1981. Today, that number is $707 million without the addition of re-releases. Hmmm, sounds a lot like Empire.
Fast forward to today with the internet and international box office numbers bringing life back to the dead. After an epic trilogy and two decades of silence, Indy returned to the big screen in 2008. It was meant to be nostalgic for your grandpa and enticing for a new generation with the addition of Shia Labeouf as Baby Indy. Well, it worked… kind of. The movie was crap and mocked everything that made Indy the ultimate treasure hunter but it was a “success” of sorts. It opened to $100 million over the standard three-day weekend and $152 million over the long Thursday-through-Monday Memorial Day weekend, and ended with $317 million domestically and $786 million worldwide. Without inflation, it’s the biggest hit in the franchise!
With it, it’s the worst. Time, inflation and expectations are the box office devil. In 2007, we sighed as Spider-Man, Shrek and Pirates ended trilogies above $300 million. In 2008, it was suddenly good enough for Indiana Jones because the surprise $100 million debut was the tenth biggest at the time and $300 million was great for an otherwise dead franchise. Now, in 2018, a $100 million opening places you outside the Top 50. Seriously, in just ten years. As for Solo, Indy’s $150+ million holiday weekend and $300+ million totals are looking like the safest bets in town. It was good enough for Indy’s return and it’s going to have to be good enough for Han’s origin story. Considering it lacks Ford’s presence and isn’t the first Star Wars spin-off, these are starting to look like pretty decent numbers. Even with inflation, Crystal Skull’s $404 million also seems reasonable. Anywhere in between should be an easy place for Solo to land.
#3) BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (2013)
Back when young adult novels were making a splash at the cinema, one of the many bombs between Twilight and Hunger Games was the teen-witch drama Beautiful Creatures. For all the things the film isn’t, it is among the more recognizable movies to star the new, young Han Solo. Alden Ehrenreich was one of the few bright spots in this bleak tale of “person with powers falls for person without powers and then there’s drama and action.” It was a low-grade Twilight (well, lower-grade) and bombed at the box office with under $20 million. To a world spoiled by Star Wars, Solo’s possible $300+ million total seems small. To Alden, it will be the biggest blockbuster of his career by a light year. Suddenly $300 million isn’t so bad.
#4) SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
The original Spider-Man franchise started with a $404 million sensation in 2002 and ended with a $336 million whimper in 2007, despite a record $150 million launch. The franchise ended and was rebooted in 2012 with Amazing Spider-Man, which earned a smaller $262 million. Then the Amazing sequel tapped out at $202 million in 2014. Five films and half the earnings later, we got another reboot in 2017 under the official Marvel banner. It flew higher than expected and almost reached the heights of the original series with a $334 million total. Spidey was back and fans are now more excited than ever after his Avengers appearance. Homecoming makes a good recommendation because it falls in line with what we now expect from Solo and it stars Lando himself, Donald Glover. It was a smaller role but it’s nice to see one of TV and music's biggest stars lending a hand to updating classic movie franchises. Let’s hope it works for Solo.
#5) TERMINATOR: GENISYS (2015)
Not all classic franchises are so lucky to get rebooted and even fewer get two chances at it. After the Terminator trilogy short circuited in 2003, the studio thought a time jump and a new cast could help make T4 a hit. Well, it didn’t. It crashed and burned, but still limped its way to $125 million. A few years and another update later we got Genisys in 2015. For T4, they cast the most recent Batman (Christian Bale) and they still got a dud. For T5, they hired franchise-killer Jai Courtney and Game of Thrones alum Emilia Clarke. Despite the fandom around Game of Thrones, Clarke’s appeal wasn’t enough to save T5. The film tanked and couldn’t crack $90 million. I guess that’s a good thing because it freed up Emilia from future sequels which allowed her to becomes Han’s new love interest in Solo.
I imagine better fortunes are in store for Emilia with her work in Solo. I’m not sure a franchise will come out of it but I bet she’s eager to get her first $100+ million blockbuster under her belt. With Solo, the debut alone will eclipse that number. A few paragraphs ago we were talking about Solo crawling its way to a $150 million holiday weekend and now it’s looking like that number alone with be the biggest hit of Emilia and Alden’s careers. At this point, it doesn’t matter what Solo earns. If it opens to $200 million and ends with $500 million, it’s because Star Wars is amazing. If it barely hits $100/300 million then it’s because it wasn’t released on Christmas, wasn’t the first Star Wars spin-off, had too many directors, was too much trouble to make, was “only” 71% positive, blah blah blah. There’s an excuse for everything. At the end of the day it’s about having fun at the movies with characters (and celebrities) you love, even if it doesn’t reach unfair expectations set upon it. I don’t know where the final numbers end up but I do know one thing: anything you watch after Indiana Jones 4 seems better, so go prep for Solo!