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Where Do We Go From Here?

The weekend box office numbers for The Rise of Skywalker are in and they have more or less decided things. We now know where the movie is headed at the box office. But I don’t just want to talk about box office today, I also want to talk about what Disney should or could do next and what all of that could mean for the future of Star Wars toys as well. So click through for the latest box office numbers and how the numbers might shape the future of Star Wars both on the silver screen and in the toy aisle!

Rey wants to become a hermit

Rey wants to become a hermit

Important: this article ONLY talks about money. This article does NOT talk about “quality”, “enjoyment” or “fun”, these are all subjective, box office success says nothing about “quality” or “enjoyment”, but box office success is the ONLY thing that matters to movie studios and box office success ultimately determines the future of a movie franchise. Solo killed all anthology movies because it flopped.

Before I begin to talk about what could be next, we have to talk about how things are now! So let’s look at the box office for The Rise of Skywalker. We have done so before and the tone changed from very enthusiastic to decidedly less so in quick succession. But how are things now, after the 3rd weekend?

To illustrate where The Rise of Skywalker is right now (only Monday estimates are missing) let me show you this simple plot:

Daily Box Office Chart

Daily Box Office Chart for Disney Star Wars Movies – click to see larger version

So what do you see here? In this chart I plotted the cumulative daily box office results for all the Disney Star Wars movies for the first 31 days of release. The green line is The Rise of Skywalker. For all movies but Solo the first marker is Christmas Day, the second marker is New Year’s Day, so you can see where exactly the holiday period was for each movie. For Solo the marker is Memorial Day.

You can see how much the movies are frontloaded here (like almost any other modern blockbuster). Around Day 17/18 most of a movie’s box office has been earned and growth is getting much smaller.

You can see that The Force Awakens is somewhere up there, unreachable. That movie also had unusually strong legs for a modern blockbuster. The Last Jedi experienced a sharp bend after the first weekend. Rogue One started out not overly strong (only compared to the Force Awakens and Last Jedi) but then developed good legs.

Solo is just weak, box office began to stagnate very early on.

But what’s up with The Rise of Skywalker? The movie got its holiday boost very early, you can see the bulge in the curve, this is when the holidays boosted the movie’s box office, this is also when some overly enthusiasted websites started celebrating the movie’s box offce success without knowing (or acknowledging) the calendar and how the other movies got their holiday boost later.

So while The Rise of Skywalker was closing the gap to The Last Jedi at first, with some websites even saying it will overtake The Last Jedi in a matter of days, the holiday boost for The Last Jedi kicked in and ever since then the movie has been forever out of reach.

But even more interesting is how The Rise of Skywalker is doing compared to Rogue One. Opening Weekend for Rogue One was weaker, but you can see that the movie had strong growth once the holidays began. This particular chart easily let’s you see how steep a curve is, the steeper it is, the more money a movie made in that period and you can see how shallow The Rise of Skywalker’s curve has become even before New Year’s Day even.

Now a few additional facts: Rogue One outperformed The Last Jedi after day 25 of release, consistently. And after day 31 (the end of point of the chart) Rogue One continued to make another $33.6 million at the domestic box office. The Last Jedi made just $28 million! This is also proves, once and for all, that The Last Jedi did have some backlash, it had weaker legs than Rogue One. And it only ended up making more because it was much more frontloaded.

But now to The Rise of Skywalker. You can see how its curve is fast approaching Rogue One. Another chart I will show you now will illustrate the difference in box office between the two movies:

The Rise of Skywalker vs Rogue One

The Rise of Skywalker vs Rogue One

This chart is very simple, it plots the difference in cumulative box office for each day. You can see that The Rise of Skywalker pulled away from Rogue One until day 9 of release, where it was $80 million ahead! But ever since day 9 Rogue One consistently outperformed The Rise of Skywalker. And after Monday the gap will go down to less than $15 million! And that decline will continue, because Rogue One even outperformed The Last Jedi in the new year.

And the same chart for The Rise of Skywalker and The Last Jedi:

The Rise of Skywalker vs The Last Jedi

The Rise of Skywalker vs The Last Jedi

Ever since day 10 of release The Last Jedi very much outperformed The Rise of Skywalker and the gap is only getting bigger each day. The Rise of Skywalker had almost reached The Last Jedi on day 10, but then The Last Jedi’s holiday boost kicked in, whereas The Rise of Skywalker had none left.

With all that I am very confident to say that Rogue One will most likely outperform The Rise of Skywalker at the domestic box office!

Rogue One’s realtively strong legs will see to it. It may be a close call, and it may take a while until Rogue One overtakes The Rise of Skywalker but the fact Rogue One even outperformed The Last Jedi by a few million and The Rise of Skywalker is now falling off a cliff in the new year almost guarantees that The Rise of Skywalker will make less money than Rogue One. And that even for unadjusted dollar values!

Here’s the cumulative daily box office chart adjusted to 2019 dollar values!

Daily Box Office Chart Adjusted

Adjusted Daily Box Office Chart for Disney Star Wars Movies – click to see larger version

Adjusted to 2019 dollars to account for inflation Rogue One will overtake The Rise of Skywalker today, on Monday.

So to summarize: the final part of the sequel trilogy and the finale of the “Skywalker Saga” will most likely make less money at the domestic box office than Rogue One. At best it will be about even.

Worldwide is not much better, The Rise of Skywalker may have trouble beating Rogue One’s worldwide box office as well. It may barely beat it, but not by much.

And worldwide box office is where all the problems are for Star Wars.

Let me show you this chart for international box office for movies released in 2019. For this I assumed that The Rise of Skywalker may make $530 million outside North America, but even if it makes $550 million nothing will change.

International Box Office 2019

International Box Office 2019 – please click for larger version!

I excluded two Chinese titles here, which both made more money outside North America, but never saw a wide release outside China! As you can see The Rise of Skywalker is just in 10th place. Hobbs & Shaw is unreachable, that movie made $585 million outside North America, The Rise of Skywalker will not reach that. Frozen II is still in theaters and still making money, but The Lion King will not be beaten by it. And somewhere out there, in another galaxy, resides Avengers Endgame.

To put it in other words: the grand finale of the Skywalker Saga, the conclusion of the Sequel Trilogy gets beaten by Disney remakes of animated movies, it got beaten by Joker, and even by the very defintion of a “lowbrow” popcorn movie with Hobbs & Shaw. This illustrates how much Star Wars is struggling outside North America.

In fact, no major new market was conquered by Star Wars since 1977, Star Wars is a thing in North America, Western Europe, Australia and Japan. And that’s pretty much it. Sure, the movies make some money elsewhere as well, but nowhere near the same level that many other modern day blockbusters do. And it’s not just China, it’s everywhere.

  • In 2015 The Force Awakens was the number 2 movie outside North America (behind a Fast & Furious movie!)
  • In 2016 Rogue One was in 6th place (not counting one domestic Chinese release!)
  • In 2017 The Jast Jedi was in 4th place (not counting yet another Chinese movie)
  • In 2018 Solo was in 32nd place (not counting two Chinese releases)
  • In 2019 The Rise of Skywalker is in 10th place (not counting two Chinese releases)

No matter how you put it, this is an underwhelming result for The Rise of Skywalker.

Now to make things clear: the movie is not tanking, it’s not flopping, it is making money, yes 1 billion worldwide is a lot of money, yes the movie is profitable, but this is all overshadowed by the fact that the movie is seriously underperforming and underwhelming at the box office. To most likely not even reach Rogue One domestic and maybe even worldwide is just bad. Disney will be disappointed.

To add some perspective. imagine Avengers Endgame had made less money than Captain Marvel worldwide! This is the situation that Star Wars is facing now, more or less.

And international box office is really one of the franchises biggest weaknesses, another weakness is that the franchise cannot build up more fans outside North America, no, the first movie in each trilogy is the one that always does best, things only go downhill from there. To illustrate that I will show you several charts now that show you how some other major franchises fared outside North America, so only international box office!

Avengers International Box Office

Avengers International Box Office

Twilight International Box Office

Twilight International Box Office

Hunger Games International Box Office

Hunger Games International Box Office

Harry Potter International Box Office

Harry Potter International Box Office

Sequel Trilogy International Box Office

Sequel Trilogy International Box Office

As you can see most of these other major franchises managed to increase the fanbase worldwide and the final movie was also the most successful. Hunger Games is an exception here, but the book the series is based on was always problematic, it has the lowest rating of all the books on Amazon and it basically boils down to “Katniss has PTSD”, which never makes for a very entertaining story. Still, Hunger Games outperformed the first movie even with it’s last movie.

Star Wars never managed that. While Revenge of the Sith outperformed Attack of the Clones it didn’t reach The Phantom Menace. It’s outside the scope of this article to look for reasons, but fact is that quite a few major movie franchises go out with a bang, not with a whimper. I am not looking at franchises with reboots here, they are a different story (Terminator etc).

Avengers Age of Ultron was already considered somewhat of a box office disappointment when its total box office didn’t reach and overtake that of the previous movie (domestic box office was weaker for that movie). But The Rise of Skywalker is doing much worse and is losing much more ground than Age of Ultron ever did. So Disney will be disappointed.

After all that what is left to say?

Star Wars has severe issues. Not so much in North America, but even there demand is apparently declining, but outside North America things look not too good. Star Wars is one of the few, if not only, major movie franchise that barely makes 50-53% of its total box office outside North America. Your typical blockbuster franchise makes something between 60%-70%, some franchises, Fast & Furious, makes even more, close to 80% even. And the international market is only getting more and more important. China will be soon or already is the largest market in the world. And all of Asia with the exeception of Japan and virtually all of the emerging markets completely ignore Star Wars.

So where do we go from here?

I believe Disney will want to retool Star Wars in a way so that it does appeal to people everywhere. It won’t be easy, because Disney absolutely cannot and must not alienate the fans they have for Star Wars. I believe the Sequel Trilogy was always held back by its close ties to the Original Trilogy, a movie series few people outside North America, Western Europe, Australia and Japan ever saw. So any new movie series must be a completely fresh start. New time period. New characters. I think the overall mythology of Star Wars is very appealing. It has many things in common with your typical modern day superhero movie. Jedi are, in a way, superheroes and Sith are, in a way, supervillains. The basic heroe’s way is popular everywhere.

So even though Star Wars is in the doldrums, is facing serious issues at the box office, I think the movie franchise can be revitalized, revitalized in a way that it finally breaks the mold of all other trilogies before, that the first movie makes the most money, with interest declining or only somewhat recovering for later movies. Disney will certainly try all to make Star Wars into something that mirrors the trajectories of Avengers movies, Harry Potter or Twilight, to build up to a finale that brings in record numbers, and doesn’t go out with a whimper like The Rise of Skywalker.

And finally, let’s talk about toys!

Back in 2015, when Disney conveniently raised royalty rates for Star Wars toys, they were in a position of strength. They assumed Star Wars would make a huge splash, which it did. But fourt short years later things are very, very different.

Box office has declined. Toy sales have plummeted, and in 2018 Hasbro made something like 1/3 of what they did in 2015 with Star Wars.

The license is up for renewal. And Disney is no longer in a postion of strength. The fact that there will be no new movies for three years means that toy sales will not raise all that high again, despite Star Wars on Disney+, a streaming show never has the same reach as a movie, especially worldwide.

That, in my opinion, can only mean that Hasbro has more bargaining power. They also saw to it to diversify their toylines, they acquired Power Rangers, they have the Ghostbusters license now, Star Wars is no longer all THAT important to Hasbro. So I think Disney will have to lower the licensing fees, the royalty rates, the minimum guarantees, no matter which company will eventually get the license. I still think it’s going to be Hasbro, but maybe they wanted to wait for The Rise of Skywalker box office results and Q4 numbers for their Star Wars toy business. With The Rise of Skywalker underwhelming at the box office Disney will barely be able to keep the royalty rates as high as they are now, basically twice as high as for any other “normal” licensed toyline.

And that, ultimately, may be a good thing. Should the license be cheaper that could mean Hasbro can either keep prices relatively stable or that they may even make some more accessories again. Of course it all depends on Star Wars toy sales now, in 2020, 2021 and 2o22. We’ll have to see how strong sales will be without any movie support.

One final word saying “but it made money” is really a weak and hollow argument, it’s also disingenious. Disney most certainly didn’t expect or want The Rise of Skywalker to perform worse than Rogue One. Or on the same level, at best. To say “but it made money” or “1 billion is a lot of money” is really putting your head in the sand, it ignores all the issues the movie franchise has. That the grand finale fails to beat an anthology movie or at best performs just as well is alarming. That Star Wars is not impressing anyone at the international box office is another alarming fact. Disney did not buy Lucasfilm to have a movie franchise that only works in North America, Western Europe, Australia and Japan. Especially in light of the fact that international box office is becoming more and more important.

So where do we go from here? Disney must learn from their mistakes. Giving Star Wars movies to directors who consider it their own personal playground was a bad idea, making Star Wars movies without any real plan was a bad idea, trying to make everyone happy, old and new fans, was a bad idea, because no character was done real justice. Going forward we need a fresh start, unburdened by the past. Star Wars still has the potential to be as successful worldwide, not just in a handful of countries. But this time Disney needs a plan.

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