'Solo' is the latest 'Star Wars' movie to bomb in China, and Disney has a big problem on its hands

Disney‘Solo: A Star Wars Story.’
  • “Solo: A Star Wars Story” had a bad Memorial Day weekend domestically but an even worse one in China.
  • The latest “Star Wars” movie earned only $US10.1 million in the world’s second-largest movie market.
  • This continues the consistent lacklustre performance the franchise has had in the Middle Kingdom.

There aren’t many instances in which Disney is on the wrong end of a box-office story, but this Memorial Day weekend, that’s exactly what happened.

“Solo,” the origin story of the legendary “Star Wars” character Han Solo, bombed not just domestically but also in the all-important international market.

“Solo” earned just $US65 million internationally, according to weekend estimates. That’s nowhere close to the Disney’s Skywalker saga releases – “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” each of which did well over $US200 million – or even its standalone release “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which took in $US135 million internationally its opening weekend.

“Solo” performed particularly poorly in China, the world’s second-largest movie market.

The release made only $US10.1 million in the Middle Kingdom, according to early estimates. That put it in third place for the weekend behind two holdovers, “Avengers: Infinity War” ($US18 million) and the top earner for the weekend, the Chinese romantic comedy “How Long Will I Love U” ($US25 million).

Historically, “Star Wars” has never grabbed the attention in China, but this is a new low for the franchise.

“The Force Awakens” is the only movie in the franchise’s Disney era to make any noise there. It was able to muster a respectable $US52.3 million opening weekend, which might have made Disney think China was ready for “Star Wars.” It went on to earn $US124.1 million its full run there. But it turns out you can chalk that up to the movie just being a global sensation. More recently, “The Last Jedi” had a $US28.1 million opening and went on to earn only $US42.5 million there. And “Rogue One,” even with the casting of the Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen, pulled off just a $US30 million opening ($US69.4 million for its entire run).

RampageWarner Bros.In China, Dwayne Johnson is a bigger draw than ‘Star Wars.’

Compare that with how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s movies perform in China, and it’s a sobering reality for Disney.

Whether it’s the “Fast and Furious” movies (“The Fate of the Furious” had a $US184.9 million opening and went on to make $US392.8 million) or titles in which he’s the driving force like “San Andreas” ($US52.2 million opening, $US103.1 million total) or “Rampage” ($US55 million open, $US154.2 million total), audiences in China can’t get enough of him.

It’s not all bad for Disney in China, though. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has consistently been strong there. A big reason for that is that unlike “Star Wars,” the MCU films have been released in China since the franchise’s inception. The original “Star Wars” trilogy wasn’t released in China until “A New Hope” opened in 2015.

But “Solo” may prompt Disney to change up its “Star Wars” strategy in China. This could mean less spending on marketing or a softer release strategy. The problem with that would be that Disney never does anything small with “Star Wars,” and, more important, China is only growing in the movie business.

In the coming years, China is likely to surpass the US as the world’s top movie market thanks to the country’s massive building of movie theatres and its own successful homegrown movie productions. Disney certainly doesn’t want to be on the outside looking in, especially with one of its major pieces of intellectual property.

Most in the industry whom Business Insider has spoken with are taking a wait-and-see approach in how Disney will go forward with “Star Wars” in China.

“The Middle Kingdom treats ‘Star Wars’ like a second-class cinematic citizen,” Jeff Bock, a senior analyst for Exhibitor Relations, told Business Insider over the weekend. “They just aren’t taken with the space saga, and unless Dwayne Johnson jumps on board, these lacklustre grosses will continue.”

As far as we know, The Rock isn’t joining the franchise anytime soon.

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