Solo: A Star Wars Letdown

There aren’t a whole lot of films that could open to over $100 million at the box office and legitimately be considered a major disappointment. Those pictures generally belong in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or other massive franchises. For instance, if next month’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom only makes that figure, that would be bad news for Universal Pictures and the series long-term viability.

Of course, there is no franchise bigger than that of Star Wars. Spanning over four decades and now on its 10th feature, there had yet to be a true example of an entry coming in well below expectations. Until now. Solo: A Star Wars Story, just a week ago or so, was projected to set the Memorial Day weekend record by outpacing the $139 million earned in 2007 by another Disney property, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

It didn’t. Like… at all. The current four-day estimate (final numbers tomorrow) puts Solo at $103 million. I had pegged it at $151 million. Oops. That actually puts it at just #7 as far as the holiday goes. That’s not only behind Pirates, but after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, XMen: The Last Stand, Fast & Furious 6, XMen: Days of Future Past, and even The Hangover Part II. Ouch.

So the natural question… why? Predicting where the money earned by moviegoers at the box office is a tricky proposition… I try to estimate it every week. Sometimes I’m great at it and sometimes not (this would obviously be a case of the latter). Solo is the second stand-alone effort in the franchise behind 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While they’re not expected to make the coin that the official episodes take in, Rogue debuted to $155 million in three days just a year and a half ago.

This latest entry focuses on an iconic character that has more name recognition than all the people (with a notable exception or two) in Rogue One put together. Sure there’s backlash about an actor other than Harrison Ford playing him, but that wasn’t expected to spark a hugely worrisome backlash as far as box office numbers.

Could it be the reviews? That might be a bit of it. Solo stands at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and that’s low for this franchise. Yet that rating isn’t terrible or anything. My own review used the word ambivalent for my overall reaction to it:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/27/solo-a-star-wars-story-movie-review/

And therein could lie the true key. Looking over the lengthy history of the series, Star Wars films have truly been Event Pictures. Ones that are breathlessly awaited and spawn endless speculation prior to their releases. The original trilogy saw three-year gaps between releases. It was then 16 years before the second and considerably less regarded trilogy arrived and they also saw three-year waits between servings. Those like me that remember the buildup to 1999’s The Phantom Menace (no matter how much it disappointed upon release) would argue it rivaled and probably exceeded that of The Force Awakens in 2015.

Since Disney took over the release reigns, we have been guaranteed a Star Wars pic a year. That tremendously dilutes the Event Picture status. Rogue One had the benefit of arriving a year after Force Awakens set every box office record. The Last Jedi didn’t match the grosses of Awakens… to the tune of $316 million less. That said, its $620 million haul is nothing to be too worried about.

Solo arriving only five months later and with so-so buzz left it as the least anticipated Star Wars experience to date. The barely nine figure gross out of the gate showed that audiences were a bit ambivalent about it.

Will that cause the Mouse Factory to rethink the release date pattern? It’s probably a good thing that Episode IX won’t be out until December 2019. The official episodes, by the way, will always have an anticipation factor that the stand-alone variety will not. And Disney might want to consider making those side projects feel a little more special or that ambivalence might continue to grow.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

I have an ambivalent feeling about this. And there I am with Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is competently directed and acted, has the impressive battle scenes you expect in this franchise, and manages to be underwhelming at the same time. It is the first occurrence of Disney’s resurgence of the forty-year plus series seeming inconsequential, a feeling that didn’t permeate Rogue One (2016’s first stand-alone entry in the galaxy far far away).

Here is a franchise, more than any other, that elicits strong emotions from its legions of fans both positively and negatively. After all, the original episodes IV-VI trilogy has inspired generations of filmmakers and other blockbusters. Episode I-III sparked a backlash where its multitude of detractors still foam at the mouth speaking of it. Even last year’s The Last Jedi had vigorous supporters and naysayers extolling its virtues or pitfalls.

Solo shouldn’t be picked part in that manner. Oh, it probably will. Yet my reaction is it doesn’t really deserve that much scrutiny. This is basically a breezy heist flick transplanted into a familiar cinematic universe. The backlash of casting a younger actor to fill the shoes of a role Harrison Ford made iconic? It’s not a disaster by any means, but Alden Ehrenreich isn’t memorable either. No surprise but when you hear the words Han Solo after viewing this, you’ll think of the older one with fondness.

The picture shows us a youthful Han wishing to become a pilot and willing to team up with unsavory characters to do so. He has an insubordinate streak that naturally rejects the evil ways of the Empire, but he hardly considers himself a hero. We know better. The love of his current life is Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who he’s separated from and makes a vow to rescue from Imperial servitude from villainous Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Han needs a ship to make that happen and that costs money. His mission leads him to partner with thief Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew. Oh and there’s a notable Wookie involved and a swagger filled Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). And that ship he finds… like you don’t know…

Han’s journeys take him to multiple galaxies with a second half that feels like one continuous action sequence. There are, of course, nods to the franchise lore. Solo, though, feels the most removed from everything we’ve seen before. If it often has the vibe of a cash grab to fill time between traditional episodes, that’s because it kind of is. Ron Howard took over the behind the camera duties after the well-publicized removal of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord months into production. I didn’t have a strange sense of competing visions while viewing it. If anything, Howard certainly seems like the filmmaker here with its workmanlike sensibilities and lack of genuine style.

The cast is filled with familiar faces putting in serviceable performances. Glover gets a couple of moments to shine, but my favorite supporting work came from the more unfamiliar Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the voice of sassy droid L3. Bettany is a decent villain in a series with previous monumental ones. As mentioned, the conventions of the heist genre are all present with double crosses aplenty.

The Star Wars series is one in which the fans rarely forget a detail. Solo: A Star Wars Story is ultimately rather forgettable. Sure it’s an easy watch, but focusing deeply on it seems like giving it too much credit.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Since Disney took over the Star Wars franchise, the three released pictures have combined for 11 Oscar nominations in the past three ceremonies. Let’s break them down, shall we?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Nominations: Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing, Visual Effects

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Nominations: Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Nominations: Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

You will note 11 nods, but no wins for the multi-billion dollar series and that all recognition has been in technical races. This Memorial Day weekend, Solo: A Star Wars Story flies into theaters. So the question must be asked: will it manage to score some Academy love as well?

Solo has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating (71%) of the bunch. That could serve as a hindrance for even tech nods, especially with MCU heavy hitters like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War in the mix, among others.

Perhaps it could play in the Sound races and perhaps Visual Effects, but competition could potentially leave Solo as the solo entry in the franchise with no Oscar attention.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Solo: A Star Wars Story Box Office Prediction

The second stand-alone feature set in a galaxy far, far away – Solo: A Star Wars Story roars into multiplexes this Memorial Day Weekend. Alden Ehrenreich takes over the role of a young Han Solo in the part made iconic by Harrison Ford. Costars include Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover as Lando, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, and, of course, Chewbacca. Ron Howard serves behind the camera in a move that garnered much press attention when he took over from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. They exited the project after creative differences with Disney after months on the job.

Reviews out today are mostly positive with 73% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, that’s the lowest meter of the four entries since the vaunted franchise came back in 2015. Our first spin-off, 2016’s Rogue One, debuted with $155 million one year after the record-breaking grosses of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. These offshoots are not expected to reach the heights of the traditional “episodes”. Solo does certainly have the added bonus of returning a beloved character, even with the natural speculation and some cynicism about another actor playing him.

One thing seems fairly certain: Solo should have no trouble breaking the current Memorial Day record held by 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End which made $139.8 million for its start. Given the extra day of grosses, Han and Chewie could exceed that by over $10 million.

Solo: A Star Wars Story opening weekend prediction: $151.3 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

Box Office Predictions: April 27-29

We are in the midst of the spring season currently, but in Hollywood it becomes summer this weekend as Avengers: Infinity War blasts into theaters. The Disney/Marvel property brings together the MCU superheroes of the past decade and looks to break numerous records. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/17/avengers-infinity-war-box-office-prediction/

As my estimate outlines, I anticipate Infinity falling just short (about $7 million) of the all-time opening record achieved by Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December of 2015. That easily gives it the #2 premiere (well above the $220 million that Star Wars: The Last Jedi made this past December).

All of the oxygen in this late April frame should be sucked up by Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, and more. This means holdovers may experience some rather rough declines, including Rampage. I also have a feeling Super Troopers 2 (after an opening that exceeded all expectations) is an example of a front-loaded gross and its sophomore fall could be significant. A Quiet Place should drop to second while Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty may lose around half of its middling debut audience.

And with that, my top 5 projections for the weekend:

1. Avengers: Infinity War

Predicted Gross: $240.2 million

2. A Quiet Place

Predicted Gross: $11.8 million

3. Rampage

Predicted Gross: $9.1 million

4. I Feel Pretty

Predicted Gross: $7.6 million

5. Super Troopers 2

Predicted Gross: $5.6 million

Box Office Results (April 20-22)

A Quiet Place crept back up into the top spot as the acclaimed horror pic took in $20.9 million, on pace with my $21.6 million projection. Its three-week total stands at a terrific $131 million.

Rampage dropped to second and held up better than I figured in weekend #2 with $20 million compared to my $17 million forecast. The Dwayne Johnson adventure has made $65 million thus far. As mentioned, it could be in for a healthier drop this weekend considering the competition.

Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty debuted in third with a just OK $16 million, in line with my $16.2 million prediction. This is lower than the comedian’s previous outings, Trainwreck and Snatched.

While Pretty was a comedy that opened on the lower end of estimates, Super Troopers 2 was fourth and blew away most prognostications. The sequel to the 2002 cult hit made a strong $15.1 million, nearly tripling my $5.2 million estimate.

Truth or Dare rounded out the top five in its sophomore frame with $7.7 million. I was close at $7.9 million. The low-budget Blumhouse horror offering sits at $30 million in its first two weekends.

Due to my low ball take on Troopers, I incorrectly had Blockers fifth. It came in seventh with $6.8 million (I said $5.9 million) for $48 million overall. Ready Player One was sixth with $7.4 million and it’s up to $126 million.

Finally, the Paula Patton thriller Traffik opened in ninth with $3.9 million – a bit above my $3 million take.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Avengers: Infinity War Box Office Prediction

It may feel like winter in many parts of the country even though it’s spring, but next weekend is essentially the start of the summer box office in 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War invades theaters. This is the 19th picture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that began a decade ago with 2008’s Iron Man and the third installment of the Avengers franchise that kicked off in 2012 (an untitled fourth installment is out next summer).

After 10 years of these superheroes populating our screens in one form or another, Infinity War is the picture that brings them all together. That means we have the Avengers we’re used to seeing together: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They’ve got a whole lot of company this time around, including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and the whole Guardians of the Galaxy gang (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the vocal work of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel). Josh Brolin is main villain Thanos. Other actors from the MCU returning include Gwyneth Paltrow, Idris Elba, Paul Bettany, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Benicio del Toro, Cobie Smulders, Angela Bassett, Tessa Thompson, and Jon Favreau. Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who directed 2016’s Captain America: Civil War) are behind the camera. Whew…

The gathering of the entire MCU is one impressive selling point and there’s been developments that have even increased the anticipation for Infinity‘s release. Last summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was well-received, as were Guardians and Thor sequels. Yet perhaps more than anything else, this February’s Black Panther turned into a phenomenon – becoming the third highest grossing domestic earner of all time.

Projections have steadily increased in the past few weeks. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Infinity War could have the largest stateside opening of all time. In order to do so, it would need to surpass the $247 million achieved by 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To accomplish the 2nd biggest debut, it would need to exceed the $220 million of last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It will almost certainly achieve the record for an MCU premiere, which is currently held by the original Avengers at $207 million.

I believe this will pass Jedi and rather easily. Getting to the Awakens number is doable, but I’ll project it falls a bit under that milestone.

Avengers: Infinity War opening weekend prediction: $240.2 million

 

Todd’s FINAL 2017 Oscar Winner Predictions

Well… here we are. After months of prognosticating and speculating, the 90th Annual Academy Awards is upon us this Sunday. This post serves as my final predictions for what and who will emerge victorious in five days.

I am listing my predicted winner as well as my runner-up in case I’m not perfect… and I certainly won’t be. I’ll have reaction up Sunday night as to how I did and my general thoughts on the ceremony.

Until then – these are my FINAL Oscar Winner predictions:

Best Picture

Nominees:

Call Me by Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: The Shape of Water

RUNNER-UP: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director

Nominees:

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

Jordan Peele, Get Out

PREDICTED WINNER: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

RUNNER-UP: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

Best Actor

Nominees:

Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

PREDICTED WINNER: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

RUNNER-UP: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Best Actress

Nominees:

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post

PREDICTED WINNER: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

RUNNER-UP: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees:

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

RUNNER-UP: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees:

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

PREDICTED WINNER: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

RUNNER-UP: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees:

Call Me by Your Name

The Disaster Artist

Logan

Molly’s Game

Mudbound

PREDICTED WINTER: Call Me by Your Name

RUNNER-UP: Molly’s Game

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees:

The Big Sick

Get Out

Lady Bird

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: Get Out

RUNNER-UP: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Animated Feature

Nominees:

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

Coco

Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

PREDICTED WINNER: Coco

RUNNER-UP: Loving Vincent

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees:

A Fantastic Woman

The Insult

Loveless

On Body and Soul

The Square

PREDICTED WINNER: The Insult

RUNNER-UP: A Fantastic Woman

Best Documentary Feature

Nominees:

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Faces Places

Icarus

Last Men in Aleppo

Strong Island

PREDICTED WINNER: Icarus

RUNNER-UP: Last Men in Aleppo

Best Film Editing

Nominees:

Baby Driver

Dunkirk

I, Tonya

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: Dunkirk

RUNNER-UP: Baby Driver

Best Cinematography

Nominees:

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Mudbound

The Shape of Water

PREDICTED WINNER: Blade Runner 2049

RUNNER-UP: Dunkirk

Best Production Design

Nominees:

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

PREDICTED WINNER: The Shape of Water

RUNNER-UP: Dunkirk

Best Costume Design

Nominees:

Beauty and the Beast

Darkest Hour

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Victoria and Abdul

PREDICTED WINNER: Phantom Thread

RUNNER-UP: The Shape of Water

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Nominees:

Darkest Hour

Victoria and Abdul

Wonder

PREDICTED WINNER: Darkest Hour

RUNNER-UP: Wonder

Best Visual Effects

Nominees:

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

PREDICTED WINNER: Blade Runner 2049

RUNNER-UP: War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Sound Editing

Nominees:

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

PREDICTED WINNER: Dunkirk

RUNNER-UP: Blade Runner 2049

Best Sound Mixing

Nominees:

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

PREDICTED WINNER: Dunkirk

RUNNER-UP: Baby Driver

Best Original Score

Nominees:

Dunkirk

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: The Shape of Water

RUNNER-UP: Dunkirk

Best Original Song

Nominees:

“Mighty River” from Mudbound

“Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name

“Remember Me” from Coco

“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall

“This is Me” from The Greatest Showman

PREDICTED WINNER: “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall

RUNNER-UP: “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman 

And that leaves the following breakdown of number of wins for each picture:

4 Wins

The Shape of Water

3 Wins

Dunkirk

2 Wins

Darkest Hour, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Blade Runner 2049

1 Win

I, Tonya, Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, Coco, The Insult, Icarus, Phantom Thread, Marshall