solo box office failure

What the heck happened with the Solo box office? Everyone expected the latest Star Wars Story to be another big hit, but the movie has fared rather poorly with audiences. While some point toward Star Wars franchise fatigue, a Wall Street analyst thinks he has the real answer: poor marketing.  

Solo: A Star Wars Story has “only” garnered $264 million at the box office. While $264 seems like a lot of money (note: if anyone wants to give me “only” $264 million, I’d be fine with that), it’s a low figure for a Star Wars movie. The bad box office has inspired a plethora of takes. Some blame franchise fatigue; some think the film should’ve moved to a December release date, since December seems to be the new home for Star Wars; some think the behind-the-scenes production woes, like the firing of original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, turned off fans. But maybe the real reason Solo failed is marketing.

At least, that’s what Doug Creutz, a veteran media analyst at financial services firm Cowen Group, claims in a new report issued to investors (via Deadline). The report breaks down and dismisses several of the other possible reasons for Solo‘s woeful numbers. For instance, some angry Last Jedi fans would like to believe their near-pathological hatred of Rian Johnson‘s film contributed to Solo‘s failure. But as the report states:

While Last Jedi received critical acclaim (91% Rotten Tomatoes rating), it received a mixed reaction from audiences, as some thought it was too much of a revisionist take on Star Wars. However, if the franchise was able to survive Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, we have a hard time believing Last Jedi could have done that much damage.

What about Star Wars fatigue? Not an issue, as far as this report is concerned:

With The Last Jedi having come out just five months ago, some have speculated that Solo was too soon of a follow-up. If this were the case, though, one would think Marvel would be having even bigger problems, with four Marvel-branded films having come out in the last six months (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Deadpool 2). Clearly, that hasn’t been the case.

And as for those production troubles, the report indicates that while film nerds (like us here at /Film and our readers) may be aware of this stuff, the general public is a bit out of the loop:

Some reports have focused on the changeover in directors and extensive reshoots that Solo went through. However, while widely reported in the trade press, this is still very much an ‘inside baseball’ thing that we think audiences at large were only dimly aware of.

The real culprit here (at least according to this report) is marketing, plain and simple. According to Cowen, Disney needed to do a better job selling new Han Solo, Adlen Ehrenreich, but didn’t. The Cowen report uses the example of Rogue One to back this up.

The Rogue One teaser came out “247 days before the movie’s release, starting an extensive hype campaign for the film. The first 35 seconds of the trailer almost exclusively focuses on Felicity Jones as the protagonist Jyn Erso, selling her as a new franchise hero. The second half is dominated by the Imperial alert klaxon and Forest Whitaker’s voice over, and practically screams ‘EPIC’ at the viewer, before closing on another hero shot of Jones.”

The Solo teaser, however, arrived just 108 before release, which offered a “far shorter hype window.” The report continues:

Disney’s marketing department, in our opinion, had one job: sell audiences on Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo (who we thought did a creditable job in the movie with very tough shoes to fill). The teaser, by our count, only had about 10 seconds of screen time where Ehrenreich’s face was clearly in the picture – not, in our opinion, nearly enough. In general, we felt like the Solo marketing campaign didn’t get fully up to speed until about a month before the movie came out, and that is simply too short of a window for a big franchise picture.

So there you have it: if Disney had just stepped-up their marketing game, they might have had more success with Solo. As for the future of the Star Wars franchise, the Cowen report says not to worry. “All in all, we expect that 2019’s Star Wars Epsiode IX will do quite well at the box office,” the report states, “probably exceeding Last Jedi, and that other Star Wars Story films will likely average closer to Rogue One than Solo, assuming Disney can execute on quality and marketing.”

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