“Incredibles 2” is a huge hit, and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” isn’t. The former exceeded box-office forecasts, while the latter flew well below them.
The natural assumption would be that one movie works, and the other doesn’t. But that’s not really the case, reflecting how the movie business is now analyzed and pored over like primary results – an expectations game,where the numbers drive perception, everyone occupies the role of pundit and prognosticator, and the public often sends mixed messages.
Subjectively, both “Incredibles” and “Solo” are good, solid summer entertainments, derived from established franchises. Yet while Pixar’s long-deferred sequel shattered box-office records for animated movies, Lucasfilm’s latest addition to the “Star Wars” universe fell far short of the standard established by other sequels and spinoffs.
For reasons that still remain something of a mystery, the audience simply didn’t show up for “Solo” in the anticipated numbers. But it’s easy to draw an inference that disparate commercial fortunes serve as a referendum on their creative quality, when the truth is that it has more to do with the limitations of box-office tracking, which like any attempt to predict behavior, has an element of uncertainty baked into it.
Perhaps for that reason, it was refreshing to chat with someone over the weekend who had really enjoyed “Solo,” and expressed enthusiasm about a possible sequel to it. When told that was very unlikely to happen – companies like Disney generally don’t double down on bets that, at this point, are projected to lose them money – she sounded mystified, wondering how they could let the story end where it did.
Anecdotal evidence obviously doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it does underscore that the gap between a hit and a miss often has little to do with the actual merits of a movie or TV show, given the importance of concept and marketing in motivating people to sit up and take notice.
It also underscores a philosophy guiding the major studios – especially when it comes to aspiring blockbusters – that seeks to program risk out of the equation, relying on presold names and titles, frequently to the exclusion of the risk-taking and original.
The problem is that audiences don’t always follow the script, turning today’s conventional wisdom into tomorrow’s second guessing.
“Incredibles 2” will only heighten pressure on Pixar and Disney Animation to dig deeper into the company’s vaults – realizing that animated characters don’t have to worry about aging or being recast – while Lucasfilm’s brain trust has been reminded that they can’t necessarily count on fans to dutifully show up for anything that has the “Star Wars” name slapped on it.
In the short term, that surely offered a rude wake-up call to one Disney unit, while “Incredibles” provides a lift for Pixar, which had produced a fairly uneven string of movies – especially by its lofty creative and commercial standards – before last year’s “Coco.” Indeed, it was just a year ago that “Cars 3” – one of those seemingly sure-fire titles – came up pretty flat, box-office-wise.
Because the movie-going audience doesn’t speak with one voice, it’s easy to take the wrong lessons from a hit or a setback, although the latter might be more enlightening when it comes to steering producers away from future miscues.
Either way, it feels like studios would be benefit from channeling more thought and ambition into making good, exciting movies, and placing a bit less faith in the polls.