What Disappointing Box Office For ‘Solo’ Star Wars Movie Means For The Toy Business


Following on the trail of numerous successful ‘origin’ movies, Solo – A Star Wars Story heralded a further insight into the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, the box office return for Solo has been disappointing by Star Wars standards. At the time of writing Solo’s global box office takings are in the region of $310m USD. These could be solid numbers for a new animated movie franchise or certain other categories of movie, but for the Star Wars series this is undoubtedly a disappointing return on a blockbuster movie development budget.

Depending on which reports you read, it appears there could be a few factors at play here:

SEQUEL FATIGUE – 2017 disappointed in terms of box office performance for toyetic blockbusters – reportedly this under performance could have been due to movie goers being bored of going to see multiple iterations of the same franchise – unless there is some ‘new news’ or freshness breathed into the franchise. However, what we have seen previously is that ‘origin’ movies on really popular franchises do tend to capture the imagination, so I’m not convinced this can be the major factor here.

HYPE & ANTICIPATION – going into the release of the Solo movie, did we see the same anticipation & hype as we have for previous Star Wars movies? Some reports have suggested that the air of expected anticipation was not there in the same way as it has been for previous Star Wars films. The challenge though in making this argument is that it is quite difficult to measure hype/anticipation. Anecdotally, the same people I know who would normally have been excited to see a Star Wars movie were excited to see this film. The argument for lack of anticipation being the main factor behind slower than expected box office doesn’t seem clear.

EVENT WINDOW – Some commentators have asked if the event window could have been the issue here? Is a May release really the best time to release such a landmark movie? Unfortunately this does not stand up to examination – because 6 of the Top 10 grossing Star Wars movies over time released in May!

THE PRODUCT – clearly movie reviews are very subjective, but overall Solo has good reviews based on our research, albeit with some discord from some reviewers. From our perspective, having watched the movie we found it authentic and entertaining. There certainly doesn’t seem to be evidence of any fundamental lacking in the final product.

The reality is that while the above factors may have had some influence there has been a fundamental shift in media consumption by toy consumers. How do you create and launch licensed toys based on amateur enthusiasts creating skateboard wipeout or gymnastics videos on YouTube? Difficult right? So the reality is that the traditional toy drivers – movies & animated TV are going to to have to work really hard to have the same impact as before as kids are generally more & more into YouTube & user generated content versus fully produced content. It seems like a fair conclusion therefore that the movies need to be an even bigger event blitz than ever before to get kids off their tablets & into the cinema.

Furthermore, for those commentators who would argue that we need fewer sequels and we need more time in between movies from the same franchise, the issue is that our consumer has changed over time – to keep brands and content franchises relevant for today’s content consumers we need more frequency. This is clearly a challenge for toy companies & their retail customers because we are accustomed to an off year in between movies to clear stock – the challenge is that the content world is not working the way it used to. So the clear implication of this is that toy companies & retailers need to be even more ruthless than ever in terms of aggressively managing inventory, because increased frequency of franchise instalments is seemingly inevitable as the ‘organised’ content world addresses the competitive threat of the ‘disorganised’ content world.

The success of 2018’s Black Panther movie (over $1.3bn USD at the global box office at time of writing, and 9th biggest grossing movie of all time) and the resultant success of the toy line, even in the unusual release slot of February clearly proves that when the formula works, movies are still a MAJOR driver of toy sales. The challenge for the global toy industry is that movie performance is perhaps less guaranteed these days versus yesteryear, and even massive budget movies can miss the mark & lead to under performance, yet we need to learn to handle this new world we’re in, because over time the number one driver of toy industry growth has been movie hits.

by Steve Reece, CEO of Kids Brand Insight www.KidsBrandInsight.com,  a leading toy expert consultancy to toy companies around the world. Services include Sourcing/factory finding especially in India & other ‘new’ manufacturing economies, toy business consultancy and product representation.


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