Recently, I asked fans on social media why they thought Solo: A Star Wars Story was doing so poorly at the Box Office. While it was an admittedly informal and imperfect poll, I did get an aggregate 3,186 responses across seven social media fan groups. I think it sheds some light on what went awry.
Some fans are in denial that Solo is failing at all. I feel their pain.
I was apathetic about seeing Solo but I have kids, so I went anyway. I came away wanting a sequel! Nevertheless, it remains true that despite all of the money Solo has made, it cost far, far more to produce and advertise the film. Solo has a long, long way to go before it actually starts to pay for itself. Experts suggest that, in order to account for marketing, etc, a movie needs to make TWICE its production budget globally before it sees a profit.
You can only deny Solo is doing poorly by taking numbers out of their Box Office context. Solo has only made $264.2 million worldwide, yet had an estimated $250 to 300 million in production costs, mostly because Ron Howard was forced to reshoot 80% of the movie. Solo hasn’t even paid for its production costs yet, much less made up its advertising costs. At the higher end of production costs estimates, Solo needs to make another estimated $335.8 million just to break even. At the more conservative end, Solo may have made up its production costs but it is barely halfway toward the breaking even, much less making an actual profit.
I loved the movie, so much so that I wish they’d just hand the Star Wars franchise over to Ron Howard, but it has undeniably bombed.
To get an idea of why fans think this happened, I surveyed seven Facebook fan groups with memberships ranging from 8.5K to 228K members, where I posed the question, “Why do you think Solo is doing poorly at the Box Office?” and gave them seven choices with the following results:
- Fan rage over previous films (43%)
- Bad timing (33%)
- Franchise fatigue (10%)
- Poorly advertised (6%)
- #NotMyHanSolo (4%)
- Just a bad film (4%)
- Too predictable (1%)
Fans were able to choose more than one option, which is good because most fans tend to think there was more than one factor that contributed to Solo‘s poor performance.
For example, commenting on the Star Wars Fans group, Joe Lindley cited several reasons:
“I think The Last Jedi hurt Solo, at least partly, which is a shame because Solo is a much, much better film. Also, it could’ve been promoted better, the timing isn’t great either with both Infinity War & Deadpool being out. But I would urge all fans of the franchise to go see it. So far the spin-off movies have been much better.”
So, it’s complicated. Which is not to say that fans didn’t come to a general consensus of what they think were the top reasons for Solo‘s poor performance at the Box Office.
The top two prevailing theories are that Solo suffered from Bad Timing (33%) or from Fan Rage over previous films in the saga (43%), most notably .
It is noteworthy that this is the only Disney Star Wars film to be released during the summer. It also follows in the wake of Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2. This summer’s blockbuster slate also includes sequels to Incredibles, Jurassic World, The Ant-Man, and Sicario, with an addition to the Mission Impossible franchise thrown in for good measure. So there is a definite argument that can be made for poor timing. At least one fan (I’ve misplaced the quote) cited this as “wallet fatigue” rather than “franchise fatigue.”
Of course, fan rage over past films was the top-voted reason. I noted in a previous post that after The Last Jedi divided fans, some called for a boycott of Solo to send Disney a message. Boycotters are taking full credit, of course, but many fans commented that they were simply apathetic rather than actively boycotting the film.
Katy Pika, commenting on the Star Wars Fanatics group, noted that fan rage went hand-in-hand with fan caution:
“Rumors about various messes during production, plus bad timing, plus TLJ had two separate negative impacts, not just one. Fan rage was one of them, but the other one – and the bigger of the two IMNSHO – was fan wariness. A lot of people simply didn’t want to risk taking a blind leap of faith on opening night just to be as upset and disappointed as they were with TLJ. I was at a comic convention that weekend and the topic came up a ton. Many hardcore Star Wars fans I talked to there – normally the ones who show our nerdy asses up on opening night in costume – weren’t actively boycotting out of rage, but were simply waiting to hear reviews from other fans rather than line up to blindly throw their money at another Disney SW flick that ran the risk of screwing up another beloved character. The fallout from TLJ that hurt Solo wasn’t just retaliatory nerd rage. It was a lack of faith in Disney’s ability to handle the characters with respect and deliver a good product, and that bodes FAR worse.”
Two fan groups chose Bad Timing more often than Fan Rage, but overall the numbers appear to be sound. In fact, if only the scores of the four fan groups who gave more than 500 responses apiece are considered, the numbers don’t change that much.
- Fan rage over previous films (41%)
- Bad timing (36%)
- Franchise fatigue (9%)
- Poorly advertised (6%)
- #NotMyHanSolo (4%)
- Just a bad film (3%)
- Too predictable (1%)
So it really does look like the top two reasons fan think Solo did poorly at the Box Office amounts to bad timing and the bad taste left in fans mouths over the Star Wars sequels. Rogue One was usually given a pass as a decent film, but fans are still sharply divided over The Force Awakens and especially The Last Jedi.
While my poll didn’t track such things, there were a lot of comments that specifically cited a social justice agenda of some sort. As a storyteller, my thoughts on that are simply. By being so in-your-face about its agenda, Disney has made the same mistake Christian authors make by being too preachy. Touting Lando Calrissian as a pansexual to promote the film and a social agenda would certainly cause conservative viewers with children to shy away from the film.
Much ado has been made over the idea of franchise fatigue, but that reason was only supported by 10% of respondents.
Others complained that Disney waited so long to give an official trailer and relied more on brand recognition than advertising. To be fair, tacking “A Star Wars Story” to the title was enough to sell it to my third grader. Only 6% of fans thought that poor advertising was a contributing factor.
Minor theories included the idea that it was too predictable and that it is simply a bad movie. A small percentage were simply resistant to the idea of a new Han Solo. As a fan named Ross Poulsen put it in a comment at the Star Wars HQ fan group:
“It’s ok at best. The dude playing Han just wasn’t good.
His acting wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t anything close to Han…….
Like not even close. It was like if Ace Ventura bought a Han Solo costume at Walmart and tried to do an Indiana Jones impression because he doesn’t have a clue about the character.”
Over at Star Wars Fanatics, James Moss opined:
“Perfect storm. The Last Jedi sucked and a lot of people weren’t interested in a Solo film, whose time frame is a few years before ANH, by an actor who looks and sounds nothing like Harrison Ford.”
Similarly, Megan Von Bergen on the Everything Sci-Fi and Fantasy group wrote:
“Eh, for me at least I don’t want to know Solo’s backstory. He’s a more compelling character if my imagination gets to fill in the details – more fun that way. Plus, only Harrison Ford is ever Solo. ;)”
In a world of constant reboots, she might just be right. This is a shame because the movie really does go out of its way to give fans what they wanted. In fact, one complaint is that the film contains too many callbacks to the Original Trilogy!
In fact, therein lies our hope. Ron Howard re-shot about 80% of this movie, which is quite nearly saying that he started all over! His film delivered the necessary amount of fanservice to appeal to fans of the Original Trilogy with numerous callbacks to those films. It was fun to see Han Solo’s origins unfold and to spot those Easter Eggs that reminded me of why I love Star Wars so much. Disney had to know how badly an 80% re-shoot would affect their production costs, which means that they chose to deliver this kind of film to fans, knowing that they probably wouldn’t turn a profit!
If this is indeed the case, the future of the Star Wars franchise may be looking brighter.
A special thanks goes out to the following Facebook groups who participated in this poll, as well as their long-suffering admins:
- Star Wars fans who actually like the movies
- Everything Sci-Fi and Fantasy
- Star Wars Fanatics
- Star Wars Fans
- The Star Wars Fan Base
- Star Wars: Anything & Everything
- Star Wars Sithposting
I would also like to thank the Star Wars HQ group. Their poll was approved too late to be entered into my dataset, but their results and comments were consistent with the overall consensus.
Last but not least, a special thanks to Flip Zamora whose comments at Star Wars Fanatics who pointed out that production cost estimates were as low as $250+ million. My post originally cited only the higher $300 million estimate supported by Deadline.com and IMDB.com. I have happily edited the article to reglect the impact of both estimates.