New Star Wars film sputters at the box office

Solo: A Star Wars Story, starring Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca (both left), earned $111 million between Friday and Sunday in North America.
Solo: A Star Wars Story, starring Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca (both above), earned $111 million between Friday and Sunday in North America.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

LOS ANGELES • Disney studio had aimed for the stars with the latest spin-off, but Solo: A Star Wars Story has not blasted off into the stratosphere.

In the first big box-office test of Hollywood's high-stakes summer season, it earned US$83.3 million (S$111 million) between Friday and Sunday in North America.

It is a huge total for any franchise film, but expectations for Star Wars releases are a world apart.

Solo also sputtered overseas, where initial ticket sales stood at about US$65 million.

Solo, which cost Disney at least US$400 million to make and market worldwide, will collect about US$100 million over the entire Memorial Day weekend in North America, said comScore.

Disney had been hoping that the movie, focused on a young Han Solo and directed by Ron Howard, would take in closer to US$140 million.

To compare, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story generated US$155 million over its first three days in theatres in 2016.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrived to US$220 million in December.

What happened?

Multiplex gridlock, for a start.

Solo arrived in the shadow of the Death Star - Avengers: Infinity War - and hot on the heels of Deadpool 2. The latter placed second over the weekend, taking in US$42.7 million between Friday and Sunday, for a two-week domestic total of US$207.4 million.

Infinity War was third with US$16.5 million, for a five-week total of US$622 million.

Solo also had less-than-stellar reviews and faced scepticism from Star Wars fanatics, some of whom had a meltdown over creative decisions made on The Last Jedi.

Disney is attempting to pull off a complicated generational hand-off - trying to please older fans while paying keen attention to millennials and children in a bid to keep the property healthy over the long term.

Solo may also have encountered franchise fatigue.

The Last Jedi arrived five months ago and Star Wars movies have always been spaced at least one year apart in the past.

Mr Steve Sansweet, president of Rancho Obi-Wan, a non-profit Star Wars memorabilia museum, said: "There is a growing feeling among fans that the movies are starting to come out a little too frequently."

Disney disagrees, noting that Marvel films come out at even shorter intervals - Thor: Ragnarok in November, Black Panther in February and Infinity War last month.

"We're going to judge Solo by where we finish rather than where we start," said Mr Dave Hollis, Disney's president of theatrical distribution. "The base is a little smaller than we had hoped for, but it's respectable and there is no substantial competition for the next couple of weekends."

Moviegoers gave Solo an A-minus grade in CinemaScore exit polls.

Some analysts said it was unfair to expect every Star Wars movie to be a juggernaut, especially now that pent-up demand has worn off.

Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and, when it restarted the franchise with The Force Awakens in 2015, it was the first new live-action instalment in a decade.

"Using the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an example, there will be films with box-office returns like Avengers: Infinity War, but there will also be films like Ant-Man," said analyst Wade Holden at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Ant-Man arrived to US$57.2 million in initial ticket sales in 2015.

Lucasfilm has at least nine more Star Wars films in the works. The untitled follow-up to The Last Jedi is scheduled for December next year.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2018, with the headline 'New Star Wars film sputters at the box office'. Print Edition | Subscribe