– By Katherine Sanderson –
Within a month of each other, Disney and Universal are going head-to-head with the newest installations of their biggest franchises: Star Wars and Jurassic Park, respectively. Many have been fast to blame the failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story at the box office on the marketing, or even the film premise itself, but in my opinion, it was a combination of many factors that made it a box office flop. And in analyzing the mistakes of Solo, I think it will help to compare its own lead-up with another upcoming summer blockbuster: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Solo: A Star Wars Story at first seemed off to a good start, with its Thursday night domestic box office at $14.1 million, but ended its opening weekend with only $101M domestic / $60M internationally (well below what it was forecasted to pull in). As of today, it has brought in $182M domestically / $136M internationally, which is a very low total for a summer blockbuster. On the other hand, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opened last week in certain international territories (it will open stateside on June 22nd!) where it got brought in an impressive $20 million at the box office in the first 24 hours. In its first weekend, it brought in $151M in 48 international markets. In South Korea, it had the biggest opening day in film industry history with an estimated $9.61M.
So let’s look at what nine factors may have led to these box office performances, and where Solo: A Star Wars Story had serious missteps.
Solo: After Ron Howard was forced to reshoot 70-80% of the film (because the first three directors were fired) the budget of Solo became the most expensive Star Wars film ever, with an estimated budget of up to $300M. It hasn’t been confirmed, but it can be expected that this affected how much of the entire production budget Disney could rationally be used for the advertising campaign.
Jurassic World: Meanwhile the Jurassic World sequel had planned a reported total budget of $260M, and is expected to have spent $185M on their global promotional campaign. That means over 70% of their budget went towards their campaign! For context, this is substantially more expensive than Avengers: Infinity War campaign, which is reported to have cost $150M. Now… money can’t buy success… but it’s looking pretty good for Universal.
First Trailer Release
Solo: As said before, the reshoots resulted in longer production, and therefore changed the marketing timeline. For blockbusters, they usually begin their advertising campaigns six to seven months before the actual release. The first trailer for Solo premiered on February 8, 2018 (just three months before the premiere in May). This made all the promotions seems rushed, and didn’t allow fans to gradually grow in anticipation, awaiting the far-off premiere.
Jurassic World: Leading up to the first trailer release in December 2017, T-Rexes had been set up around the world. There were logo projections for an entire week leading up to the trailer launch, in places like LA, NY, London, Chicago, Ireland, Houston, Peru, Milan, Philadelphia, Sweden, Colombia, San Francisco, Seattle, Rome, DC and Korea. By the end of the week when the trailer premiered, people were pumped. Following the premiere of the Super Bowl trailer, within the first 24 hours it gained 39.7 million views across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube which is more than any of the other movie trailer’s social media view counts, including Avengers: Infinity War which only got 30.9 million views.
Theatrical Release Strategy
Solo: For Solo: A Star Wars Story, released worldwide within a three-day time span (May 23-25). For domestic audiences, this was Labor Day weekend, which is notorious as being a hit-or-miss time for blockbusters. What also didn’t help was that Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiered only five months ago, and people may not have felt the need to satiate their craving for Star Wars content. According to Disney’s previous president of worldwide distribution Dave Hollis (who just stepped down a few months ago), regarding Disney’s decision to release Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Solo all in the first half of the year, “There’s a question of frequency, and how many times people will go to the movies. Is this too much and too soon for a third time in a five-week period?” With the diverse worlds, characters and storylines within the Marvel universe, it seems people don’t become exhausted with Marvel films. But with Star Wars, it seems it was too soon for another installment.
Jurassic World: Jurassic World meanwhile utilized a staggered distribution strategy, meaning that depending on the country, the film opens anywhere from June 6th (UK, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, etc.) to June 22nd (USA, Canada, Mexico). This was strategic, specifically in Europe, where they were trying to avoid overlap with the World Cup. Japan won’t even have their premiere until July 13th. And with the first Jurassic World premiering way back in 2015, three years has been a long enough wait for Jurassic Park fans.
Worldwide Film Premiere
Solo: Solo premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Immediately when I saw this, I thought this was an odd choice, given the prestige and high-profile attendees at Cannes, and also the expense of premiering a film a Cannes to begin with. According to reports, there was a party hosted a Cannes following the premiere, complete with extensive fireworks show, but only for Cannes attendees. It didn’t allow the regular fans to connect with the film, and obviously didn’t get the film the publicity that they had anticipated.
Jurassic World: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom also made an unconventional choice, deciding to host their world premiere in Madrid, in the home country of their director J.A. Bayona. There it received a 10-minute standing ovation. According to box office receipts, this decision wasn’t a surprise, given Europe brought in over $200M for the first Jurassic World film (China would have been a great choice too… given they brought in over $200M). For the domestic audiences, this Wednesday June 13th at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, Universal hosted a Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Fan Fest. It was advertised on the site, as being the “first time ever [that] Universal invites fans to experience the footprint of a Hollywood premiere” (and it is free, on a first-come, first-served basis!) The event included a screening of the film, as well as photo-ops with production props & dinosaurs, design-your-own T-shirt stations, Lego builds, VR experiences, and food trucks. There was also a Jurassic games area featuring demos of all the new Jurassic World games. Now that sounds like fun, and a way to get fans engaged.
Solo: If you look at the Solo website it is lacking in content or interactive activities for fans. It is part of the larger Star Wars site, and really feels like it was one of the last thoughts. There are some clever articles, like how to make your own Star Wars tote, and how to make a Ham Solo Pot Pie, but overall there’s not much. There is a data bank which holds short bios about all of the characters, locations, and key objects, which is interesting, but this is the most in-depth they go.
Jurassic World: On the other hand, Jurassic World has its own website, full of extras and news, and complete with a countdown clock until the premiere in your area. There is also a linked promotional site Dinosaur Protection Group, where you can adopt a dinosaur. Preceding this, there was a Isla Nublar website in which fans could ‘plan’ their trip, look at ‘web-cam footage’, and look at an interactive map of the island, only to find that attractions were gradually being closed because of volcanic eruption (the plot of the sequel film).
Solo: Aside from their Cannes premiere, there were few attempts to have events focused on Solo: A Star Wars Story. All theaters, including AMC, Cinemark, and Regal, offered free posters, cups, etc. to fans who came to opening night events, but there were no real promotional stunts to speak of.
Jurassic World: Meanwhile, Universal looked at what countries the first film had been most successful… and they moved in. In 2015, the UK was at the top of the European box office for Jurassic World with $99M. A barge carrying what looked like a giant T-Rex went down the Thames River on May 23rd. Universal also invaded Kings Cross Station in London, installing a giant T-Rex and Raptor, a light and sounds immersive experience, a digital screen domination, an immersion zone in the main tube/rail interchange, a gyrosphere installation and a VR station. In China (which was the top foreign market for the initial Jurassic World with $229M at the box office) approximately 100 blue raptors were installed in cinemas and shopping malls in cities all over the country. Dave & Busters just announced last week that they will be hosting a Jurassic World location-based VR experience, opening June 14th at all 114 of their locations in the US and Canada. NBC’s American Ninja Warrior also did a cross-over with Jurassic World, having a Jurassic World Night for their competition show.
Solo: According to Deadline reporter Anthony D’Alessandro, there is no competition as far as toys. “Walk down a Walmart toy aisle at a time when Toys “R” Us has become extinct and you see that Fallen Kingdom merchandise greatly outshines Disney’s Solo: A Star Wars Story in its presence.” And it is true. Although there were some pretty cool toys (see the Millenium Falcon toy) Disney mostly kept their consumer products limited to figurines (which their adult fans love to collect).
Jurassic World: Jurassic World has brought out all the stops for their consumer products. An interactive activity book called Raptor Rescue allows fans to download a free app and use it in conjunction with the book, so that they can to see augmented reality dinosaurs come to life off the page. There is also a mobile game app called Jurassic World Alive that offer AR dinosaurs. If these are anything like the Monster Park app (which also boasts AR dinosaurs) they will be really cool! Jurassic World Evolution game is available to PC, the PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system and the Xbox One all-in-one games and entertainment system.
Solo: There were reported only six partners for Solo: A Star Wars Story, which included Denny’s, Esurance, General Mills, Nissan, Solo Cup, and Symantec. One of the primary partnerships for Solo was Solo cups (yes… that actually happened…very punny…) None of these were particularly memorable or high-end, and there were no real creative tie-ins.
Jurassic World: According to reports, consumers all over the world will be exposed to 1.3 billion Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom packages. The film’s promotional partners include Jeep, Doritos, and Dr Pepper, among many others. Amazon, one of their partners, delivered a gigantic box (14 feet high and 40 feet long, called “the world’s largest Amazon delivery”) on May 30th to The Grove mall in LA, complete with an Jeep motorcade to escort. The box had several air holes and made threatening growls (three guesses as to what was inside!) It was on display until June 2nd, when Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were on-site to open it. Meanwhile, fans outside of the Los Angeles area were able to ask Alexa devices “Alexa, ask Jurassic World what’s inside the box…” to get clues as to what was inside, and use the hashtag #AmazonFindsAWay. It is also expected that over 100 million promotional boxes of food, such as Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Pop Tarts, Keebler Cookies and Eggo waffles, which will be displaying Fallen Kingdom branding, and also offering fans the opportunity to win free movie tickets!
Connecting This Film to the Overall Brand
Solo: One of the most talked about features of the marketing of Solo was the new poster design. There was a different color scheme, and it was the first time in Star Wars history that the actors names were showcased atop the poster. It was a departure from what we all have come to know as Star Wars film posters. This may have been to draw attention to the star-studded cast, but in ways in alienated the fans who were original Han Solo fans. It felt very different, like they didn’t want this film to be associated with past ones, and that probably didn’t sit well with Star Wars fans.
Jurassic World: In honor of the 25th anniversary of the original Jurassic Park film, and leading up to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, fans were invited to recreate their favorite scenes from the original film. The video below shows the director and producer thanking the fans, and showing a montage of the best submissions. This really showed a respect for the fans, and reminded them that this new film was still part of the original series.
When it comes to continuing a film franchise, especially ones that are a part of an overarching brand, those in charge of advertising and promoting the film must pay attention to the details! Fans love to feel like they’re part of the story, well before the film even premieres. To come to the defense of Solo: A Star Wars Story, they just had a rough time from the start, and it’s really a matter of circumstances and a few bad decisions that contributed to the film’s failure. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom still has a few more weeks until we can definitively say that it is a success, but I have a strong feeling that Universal’s hard work will pay off big.
About the Author
Katherine Sanderson currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. Originally from Colorado, she graduated with a BA in English from Santa Clara University in 2014, and is an alumna of the JPCatholic MBA program (Class of 2016). Her professional aspirations are in children/family entertainment, especially animation.
For more articles by Katherine, click here.