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Has Disney Made Any Actual Profit With Star Wars Since 2012?

Anyone familar with “Betteridges’ Law of Headlines” will immediately know the answer to the question… so spoiler: no. They haven’t. Sure, they made money with Star Wars, quite a bit, but they paid $4.05 billion for Lucasfilm in 2012, which has to be recouped before you can talk about actual profits. For the first time (I believe it is the first time) it’s not some YouTuber who is eternally angry which can be used as a source for this, but Forbes magazine! However, since Forbes only covers the movies I will add other things like merchandise, video games and, well, everything!

All the Star Wars movies and many Disney+ shows are produced in the UK. The reason for that is tax incentives. However, this also means Disney has to provide detailed financial statements in the UK  and those are public, i.e. if you know the names of the production companies (think Blue Harvest) you can easily look up how much money Disney/Lucasfilm actually spent on something, and this includes all the movies and various shows. And those numbers are quite… something. If you thought movie budgets at Disney and Lucasfilm are out of control… you ain’t seen nothing yet!

So click through for a detailed breakdown of the movie budgets and learn why Disney, even after 12 long years, has not even recouped the cost of buying Lucasfilm in 2012 with all Star Wars projects combined.

Money sinkhole

First, let’s look at the actual movie budgets, according to the documents filed in the UK, so these numbers are official Disney/Lucasfilm numbers! The numbers only cover the production costs and do NOT include marketing, marketing is a substantial expense and I will talk a bit about it after we look at the production budgets!

The Force Awakens: total budget is $567.3 million, UK tax return amounts to $92.2 million, resulting in an actual budget of  $457.1 million. Way above previous industry estimates.

The Last Jedi: $385.8 million total cost, $66.5 million UK tax return, net budget of $319.3 million

The Rise of Skywalker: $542.4 million overall budget, $94.1 million UK tax relief, net budget was $448.3 million

This aligns with previous reports that both Abrams movies had massive budgets whereas Johnson’s movie had few hiccups, which may also explain why Lucasfilm originally wanted him to make more movies. The Last Jedi was almost cheap to make compared to the two Abrams movies.

The spin-off movies:

Rogue One: $298.7 million total cost, $50.9 million UK tax relief, net budget of $247.8 million

Solo: $351.6 million total budget, $64.4 million UK tax return, net budget of $287.2 million

So imagine that, Lucasfilm spent almost half a billion dollar just on making The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker each. And none of that even includes marketing!

Now as a general rule of thumb these massive blockbusters will have marketing costs of about $100-150 million, this covers ads, making trailers, having stormtroopers pose in China in front of cinemas. Things like that.

So total production cost (before marketing!) for all the movies combined, after UK tax reliefs, is a staggering $1.759.700.000. And while Disney will make more money with box office in the US, theaters in the US will pay up to 60% of ticket prices to Disney,  in most other countries it’s just 40% and in China even just 20%.

And here is the actual profit Disney made for each of their Star Wars movies, so their share of the worldwide box office:

The Force Awakens: $559.6 million
The Last Jedi: $346.8 million
The Rise of Skywalker: $89 million
Rogue One: $281.5 million
Solo:  -$90.7 million (Solo was a flop)

So total profit for all the Star Wars movies under Disney is $1,186,200,000 or a little less than $1.2 billion. But marketing needs to be accounted for and I will be generous, I will assume $100 million on average for each of the movies, even if The Force Awakens almost certainly had much higher marketing costs. But I want to err on the side of caution. So marketing for all five movies is in the ballpark of $500 million.

And actual profit made with the movies is $686 million, let’s be even more generous and round it up to $700 million.

And anyone still wondering why Disney stopped making Star Wars movies after The Rise of Skywalker need not look any further. There is a reason it was dubbed the first ever 1 billion dollar box office disappointment by analysts back in 2019. The movie barely broke even, because Disney does not have its movie budgets under control. And if you factor in marketing the movie actually lost a little money at the box office.

Now of course this does not account for home media sales.

Domestic home media sales (revenue, not profit) according to The-Numbers website:

The Force Awakens: $191 million
The Last Jedi: $102 million
The Rise of Skywalker: $68.4 million
Rogue One: $88 million
Solo: $56 million

Now this only covers the US, I will make a generous guess now and say international sales are about in line with foreign box office, as in, revenue split is roughly 50/50, so let’s assume foreign market sales are the same as US domestic. And let’s generously assume Disney will get 50% of the revenue as profit.

This means home media adds about $505 million in profits.

Combined with box office profit this is a total profit of $1.2 billion.

Another thing to consider would be tv rights, the movies were released before Disney+ (other than The Rise of Skywalker), so Disney will have earned some money with licensing the movies to tv networks across the world. Keep that in mind! I will return to that later!

Let’s look at merchandise!

I will be generous, once again. We know that Hasbro alone made about $490 million with Star Wars in 2015, and according to industry analysts $750 million of Star Wars merchandise was sold in the US in total in 2015. This does not include foreign markets. Let’s be generous and say the US accounts for 60% of Star Wars worldwide merchandise sales (it will probably be more).

Let’s also assume Disney receives about 23% of (wholesale) revenue as royalty fees, plus guaranteed minimums. We do not have numbers for the minimum guarantees, none. So we can only guess.

Let’s say total worldwide revenue with Star Wars merchandise since 2012 amounts to about 7 billion, this is a very generous estimate. If Disney received 23% of that their share is about $1.6 billion. Minimum guarantees exist and we know nothing about them though. Let’s err in Disney’s favour and say Hasbro paid about $250 million in minimum guarantees since 2012 and since Hasbro is the main licensee all the smaller licensees (the ones who make coffee mugs, pillows and other knickknacks) maybe also pay another $250 million combined. Make that $600 million. This very simplistic and generous calculation would result in profits of $2.2 billion with merchandise since 2012. Which is more or less in line with previous eras, merchandise always made a lot more money than movies. Of course Disney’s share is calculated based on wholesale prices, not retail prices, so actual profit will be lower, but I want to be super generous and provide a best case scenario for Disney and Star Wars.

Now there’s also video games and books, books are neglible, most Disney Star Wars books do not sell all that many copies, maybe tens of thousands, same with comics. The four major games, Battlefront 1 + 2, Jedi: Fallen Order and Survivor sold several million copies each. Fallen Order alone sold about 20 million copies, which is massive, Survivor did not sell quite as many copies, but let’s assume both games combined sold 35 million copies. Then there’s the Squadrons game which is more of an AA title, back in 2021, before Survivor, EA said that combined sales of both Battlefront games, Fallen Order and Squadrons was 52 million copies. Add Survivor and let’s say it totals to 65 million copies sold. If we still assume that Disney receives 23% of the revenue and if we use an average price of $60 for the games, this means the games alone earned a total revenue of $3.9 billion! 23% of that is $900 million (rounded up). We do not know how much EA paid in minimum guarantees, but combined with the uncertainty of knowing how high the royalty fees are (we only know for certain that Hasbro paid at least something like 23%) let’s say Disney earned a flat $1 billion with the EA Star Wars games. Maybe a bit more, so let’s say $1.1 billion if we include microtransactions and Disney’s share of that. Again, this uses retail prices, when in fact Disney’s share is based on wholesale prices (the platforms selling the games want to make some money too), but as with the merchandise I want to be super generous so no one can say I underestimate Disney’s profits.

So Disney’s profit with Star Wars thus far is…

Movies: $700 million
Home media: $500 million
Merch: $2.2 billion
Games: $1.1 billion

Total profit: $4.5 billion

It’s impossible to say anything about tv rights, it will be a few hundred million worldwide. Let’s say with tv rights included total profit with Star Wars movies and merchandise is $5 billion. I assume this is extremely generous.

So based on that Disney would have recouped the acquisition costs and even made some profit… BUT… Disney+ is a massive money sinkhole and the many Star Wars shows cost a lot of money to produce! And the production costs have to be considered!

Andor alone cost $207 million AFTER UK tax breaks (based on official documents).
Obi-Wan Kenobi cost about $90 million (basically a low budget fan movie by Disney standards).
One season of The Mandalorian is said to cost about $120 million.
Book of Boba Fett cost $105 million.
Skeleton Crew (already finished filming, upcoming) cost $136 million.
I have found no real numbers for Ahsoka, but based on what the other shows cost let’s say about $120 million.
The Acolyte spent $49 million on pre-production alone, let’s assume this will be in the ballpark of Andor, also because they apparently filmed much on location, like Andor. So let’s say $200 million (after refunds).
The animated shows combined have an unknown budget, let’s just say all the Disney animated shows total $200 million, could be more, could be less, it’s a rough estimate.

So all the shows combined have a production budget of $1.4 billion. And Disney+ has not earned a single dime ever since it was launched and instead is a massive multibillion dollar money sinkhole. In short: Disney has not recouped any of the production costs and instead returned a loss for each and every single show or movie they released on the platform. As simple as that.

So profit for Star Wars after we deduct production costs for the various tv shows, is $3.6 billion. Maybe a bit more, since Disney didn’t necessarily lose ALL of the production cost put into Star Wars on Disney+, they earn some money with subscriptions, just not enough. All in all Disney lost about $11 billion total with Disney+ since 2019, a massive amount. So most of the production costs for the Disney+ shows and licensing costs for things like Bluey were certainly not recouped.

But there is the cost of constructing the two theme parks and the failed Star Wars hotel. Now of course the theme parks make money, but it is near impossible to say how much profit can be attributed to the two Galaxy Edge theme parks since you pay for the whole park and there are no single tickets just for Galaxy’s Edge.

In a best case scenario you could say that MAYBE Disney has barely broken even with Star Wars after 12 years all costs considered, but of course Lucasfilm is not just Star Wars…  And Disney lost several hundred million with Indiana Jones And The Dial of Destiny and Willow was such a massive flop they wrote it off entirely and then deleted the series from reality. Then you have to add all the many failed Star Wars projects and people hired who were fired… all of whom will have received some money as well, no one works for free in Hollywood, even if their project is not picked up. So people like Colin Trevorrow will have received some money for writing his script.

Indy 5 alone probably lost about $300 million. Willow cost $106 million to make, that is another $400 million loss (let’s be generous and say it’s just $350 million because of write offs and tax refunds). So before theme parks the total profit for all the Lucasfilm projects, in a best case scenario (I was very optimistic with merchandise sales for Star Wars), is down to $3.25 billion. Star Wars alone is $3.6 billion. In total about $800 million short of the acquisition costs, and this after more than a decade.

Now the theme parks of course cost money to construct. We know that each Star Wars theme park cost about $1 billion to construct. The failed hotel cost about $400 million to construct and resulted in a gigantic $300 million write-off. The hotel never made money but we can’t say how high ongoing costs for the hotel were. It is unlikely that the Galaxy’s Edge theme park profits (however Disney would calculate that, maybe based on visitors per ride and merchandise/food/drinks sold) exceeds the total construction costs of $2.4 billion. Both parks have only been around since May 2019, so about five years. It’s unlikely combined profit for both parks, especially considering Covid interrupted business, exceeds $480 million per year, factoring in Covid and the closures/severe limitations it brought. And you have to add the $800 million still missing to recoup the Lucasfilm acquisition cost, so the Galaxy’s Edge theme parks are required to have made a profit of about $3.2 billion plus whatever the ongoing costs are to run the parks in five years for Disney to break even with all of Star Wars and Lucasfilm, all costs considered. Even if you disregard the Indy 5 and Willow flops it is still very unlikely. Especially with Covid disrupting the park business.

Now to be fair: the only thing I can talk about with certainty are movie and Disney+ budgets and profits. Merchandise is guesswork (somewhat educated, but still guesswork), video game sales are more or less known, but the exact share Disney will receive is unknown, but it’s reasonable to assume Disney would fleece EA about as much as Hasbro. Theme parks are entirely unknown. We only only know construction costs, we don’t know how expensive it is to run the places and how much of the overall theme park profit can be attributed to both Galaxy Edge parks in the US or how Disney would even calculate profits for Galaxy’s Edge. But it’s likely it will not exceed the overall production costs and operating costs yet, not with Covid. So all in all the theme parks have probably not yet recouped their costs, especially with the failed Star Wars hotel being such a massive write-off.

But I tried my best to be very generous and to always err in favor of Disney when it comes to merchandise, tv rights and video game profit.

This in turn means that after 12 long years Disney, with only little uncertainty, has not recouped the costs of buying Lucasfilm with Star Wars and certainly not with all Lucasfilm projects combined. The movies themselves made money, the games made really good money (actually, Disney made more money with the games than the movies!), merchandise was sold and Disney has extortionate royalty rates, but this is all offset by the enormous Disney+ money sinkhole, the immense production costs for the theme parks, the movies and of course the money spent on buying Lucasfilm in the first place.

Also, we have known for a while now that Lucasfilm/Disney movie budgets are out of this world and just insane… but the financial statements filed in the UK reveal the true extent of the sheer insane costs… Lucasfilm spent more than $450 million, without any marketing added, on The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker each. Resulting in a one billion dollar movie that barely broke even. How is that even possible? Why did Disney allow that to happen? And Disney has not learned from all that, 2023 was their worst year ever and a good number of their movies lost money because of those inflated budgets.

In the not too distant future Disney will eventually have recouped the costs of buying Lucasfilm, but that this takes more than a decade (closer to 15 years probably) is telling. Provided of course the new movies will not be flops.

And again: I cannot stress enough how everything I say about merchandise sales is mostly guesswork, based on what we know about merchandise sales in the US back in 2015 and before, the last number we have is from 2015. So the numbers are really just rough estimates, but as I said, to counteract this I tried to be extremely generous, so in reality the true profit Disney made will probably be lower.

Are you surprised or maybe even shocked to learn how expensive the Star Wars movies were? In light of all this you do wonder why Disney is still spending silly money on movies (see Captain America 4 and 6 month reshoots) to this day. This is not just a Lucasfilm issue, all Disney projects have insane production costs. The Star Wars movies alone could have made hundreds of millions more profit if production costs were more in line with what other studios pay for their movies.

Forbes Article about Star Wars movie budgets and profit

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