Box office breakdown: Summer 2018 in review

InfinityWar5aa86b6fdaeb5.0It’s hard to believe it, but another summer movie season has already come and gone at the box office. Although this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, the biggest winner of the summer was “Avengers: Infinity War,” wrapping up a decade of buildup and letting the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate villain, Thanos, take center stage.

“Infinity War” made a boatload of money — over $2 billion worldwide, to be precise. Domestically, though, it couldn’t *quite* touch “Black Panther’s” insanely impressive $700 million. “Black Panther’s” exciting reign at the box office is a topic worthy of an article all on its own, and the film clearly resonated with audiences.

“Infinity War” is my personal favorite movie of the year so far, simply because it was such a joy to see all these characters we’ve fallen in love with in one big movie together. I figure most people have heard about the ending already, but just in case, spoiler alert! I loved that they actually let Thanos snap with the gauntlet, even if I’m 100 percent sure that those characters who disappeared are coming back. In fact, that’s my one little gripe about the film; the deaths are well-acted, particularly the scene with Spider-Man and Tony. But I know these deaths aren’t going to stick, which guts their impact just a little. However, I’m waiting to pass judgement on that until I see part 2 next year, because I have a feeling some of the original Avengers will be called to make some devastating sacrifices in order to bring back the characters who crumbled into dust.

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While “Infinity War” was the biggest film of the summer, there were quite a few nice, smaller surprises along the way. I actually enjoyed “Deadpool 2” a lot more than the original; I liked the story more, I laughed at the jokes more, and Josh Brolin was awesome as time-traveling soldier Cable (Brolin wins the award for this summer’s biggest overachiever, as he also did an awesome job playing Thanos). And speaking of awesome, “Mission Impossible – Fallout” was fantastic, and is one of the best action flicks I’ve seen in a long time. I always forget about that franchise, and then it always comes back and amazes me. It was definitely a must-see this summer.

I was sad to see “Solo: A Star Wars Story” under-perform, because it really was a fun movie, despite all the drama behind the scenes. Sure, it didn’t carry the same narrative weight or emotion as “The Last Jedi,” but it’s an entertaining heist flick, and it deserved to make more money than it did. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise, and now it seems like an insanely long wait until Episode IX. I still think Disney should have held “Solo” until late fall this year, but we’ll never know how that might have played out differently at the box office.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” didn’t receive glowing reviews from critics, but I had a lot of fun watching that movie. Dinosaurs on the big screen always make me smile.

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Although I didn’t see any films this summer that I disliked, I was a bit disappointed in a couple of films I was really looking forward to: “Incredibles 2” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Granted, I still had fun watching these movies, and I was glad I saw them in the theater. But at least for me, neither one of them *quite* lived up to their predecessors. I know others who really loved them, though, and I’d still recommend them.

The last film I saw this summer was “Christopher Robin,” and I thought it was a perfect note to end on. Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh adaptation was a lovely little tale about rediscovering joy in life, and it felt like an incredibly relevant and timely message. The importance of kindness, friendship, and compassion is a lesson that needs to be shared as often as possible.

And…that’s it! There are a couple other films that were released this summer that I’d like to catch on DVD but I probably won’t be back at the theater until late fall. I hope everyone had a great time at the movies this summer, and I’d love to hear your favorites and least favorites! Here’s my quick list — what’s yours?

Favorite movie: Avengers: Infinity War
Least favorite movie: Incredibles 2 (I’m really sorry, Pixar! I promise, I didn’t hate this movie!)
Best scene: Thor arriving on the battlefield in Wakanda
Best soundtrack: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Best laughs: Deadpool 2
Best special effects: Infinity War
Best character: Thanos
Least favorite character: The villain in Incredibles 2
Most suspenseful: Mission Impossible – Fallout
Best surprise: Christopher Robin

 

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Box office breakdown: Is ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ really a flop, and what does this mean for Disney going forward?

HS-551136_R“Solo: A Star Wars Story” premiered to an estimated $103 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend. Now, ordinarily this wouldn’t be considered a bad number. Plenty of films would kill to have this kind of opening weekend. However, it’s fair to say this is still a lot less than Disney had hoped for, especially considering the project’s reported $300 million budget and additional advertising expenses. Original projections were closer to $130-150 million for the opening weekend.

So, what happened to “Solo,” and what does this mean for the franchise going forward? There are lots of narratives flying around the internet theorizing what happened; some of the questions people are asking are valid, though this isn’t the harbinger of the demise of Disney Star Wars, by any means.

I personally wouldn’t call “Solo” a complete flop, despite what some are claiming. Still, the film has underperformed, considering its budget — which is a real shame, because “Solo” is a fun film and I thought Ron Howard did a good job salvaging the movie. It could have easily been a disaster with all that behind-the-scenes drama, including the director shake-up, reshoots, and casting controversy.

One of the phrases I’ve heard tossed around is “Star Wars fatigue.” Do I think that has anything to do with “Solo” underperforming? Yes and no. “Solo” came out about five months after “The Last Jedi,” and I think Disney would have been much smarter to hold this until late fall. Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe can sustain several releases a year but A) Star Wars is a different animal and B) not all Marvel films are the billion-dollar hits people seem to expect Star Wars to be. Star Wars movies have always felt more like event films — something that comes up every once in a while and people get really hyped for. As much as I love Star Wars (and believe me, I do love Star Wars), I really only want one Star Wars movie a year. Plus, I think people have kind of gotten used to Star Wars movies around Christmastime, and the summer movie season is so crowded these days. “Solo” wasn’t helped by being released so close to “Infinity War” and “Deadpool 2.”

Others argue “Solo” is underperforming due to the supposed fan backlash to “The Last Jedi.” Although critically well-received and financially successful, the film proved divisive amongst the fan base for some of its surprising narrative choices. As someone who really, really loved “The Last Jedi,” maybe I’m biased, but I just don’t think the majority of people (particularly the general public) completely loathed “The Last Jedi” with the passion of a thousand simultaneously-firing Death Stars. 😉 It absolutely inspired debate, and I totally respect the opinions of those who had a different reaction to the film than I did. However, I don’t see “Solo’s” underperformance as a direct tie to some kind of post-“Last Jedi” boycott, although that may have played a small role. I feel Disney doesn’t need to be concerned about Episode IX.

I think overall, people just weren’t as hyped to see a Han Solo origin story. The premise didn’t have the same intrigue as “Rogue One” or the buzz of the main “episodes.” People were skeptical about the re-casting of Han Solo, even though I think Alden Ehrenreich did a pretty good job. As I’ve mentioned before, even though we didn’t strictly need a Han Solo movie, the final product is a lot of fun, and I’m glad it’s part of the Star Wars canon. However, if Disney can’t motivate people to buy a ticket, how good the movie is or isn’t doesn’t matter. Maybe people didn’t view this as a “must see” film. Maybe some weren’t even aware it was coming out due to the delayed advertising and hype over “Infinity War.”

I wish Disney had just gone with Ron Howard as the director in the beginning and stuck with a more modest budget. Because if that was the case, “Solo” would be a moderate hit instead of an underperformer. I don’t think Disney should expect every Star Wars movie to be a billion-dollar hit. Not every Marvel movie is one of those, and that’s perfectly fine. The first Captain America and Thor movies both premiered under $70 million, and I think Disney should have been expecting numbers closer to that for “Solo.” It’s easy to treat Star Wars as an established franchise, like the MCU, but really the Disney Star Wars universe is its own thing (separate from the original trilogy and the prequels), and should be compared to the early days of the MCU, not the MCU as it is now (if it’s even fair to compare it to the MCU at all). Especially for these anthology films, Disney has to be prepared to tell smaller-scale stories and get a smaller box office gross. Also, for whatever reason, Star Wars just isn’t as big a hit internationally, and Disney will probably have to factor that into its future calculations as well.

Now, I will be really interested to see how “Solo” does its second weekend, because word of mouth for this film has actually been fairly positive (at least judging by what I’ve heard from fans). It doesn’t have a lot of competition the next two weeks, so hopefully more people will give it a chance. As a fan of what Disney has done with the Star Wars brand so far, this isn’t the result for “Solo” that I was hoping for, but hopefully this will simply help Disney adjust its budgeting process, release strategy, and expectations, and keep producing great Star Wars content for many years to come.

 

‘Solo’ takes flight: Disney’s ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ a surprisingly fun galactic heist movie

nullWhen I walked out of the theater after watching “Solo: A Star Wars Story” last night, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. I was originally concerned about this film, considering it had such a bumpy ride to the box office. With behind-the-scenes drama that included fan backlash to casting choices, a director shake-up, and major reshoots, this movie could have easily turned into a cinematic dumpster fire.

Against the odds, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” turns out to be a very enjoyable movie — and it actually feels more like a heist film than an origin story (another positive, in my book). While it’s fair to say I enjoyed the other three Disney Star Wars flicks — “The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One,” and “The Last Jedi” more — don’t let the negative prerelease buzz scare you away. “Solo” is still well worth a trip to the theater.

We meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as a scrappy survivor on the streets of Corellia, where he’s hatching a plan to escape to a better life and become a pilot. He wants to take his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) with him, but they’re separated when she’s captured and detained. Although he swears he’ll come back to free her, he signs up for the Imperial Navy and becomes, for all intents and purposes, a prisoner as well. Still, Han never stops scheming and hoping, and he eventually joins a group of criminals on a job that could earn him enough money to get back to Corellia. However, things naturally don’t go as well as he plans, and the Qi’ra he returns to may not be the same person he left.

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As mentioned before, “Solo” technically qualifies as an origin story but feels like a fun heist adventure. Like “Rogue One,” this movie has a grittier, grimier aesthetic than the main Star Wars saga, and for me, that really works. I felt like I was stepping into the Star Wars criminal underworld, and I enjoyed seeing a new side of that famous galaxy far, far away. There are some really cool action set pieces, including that train heist we caught glimpses of in the trailers, and the Millennium Falcon’s famous “Kessel Run.”

I feared the final film might be a little choppy, due to the behind-the-scenes drama, but it actually flows fairly smoothly. We’ll probably never know what the original “Solo” film was going to be like, before original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired. My gut feeling is that Lucasfilm made the right decision; supposedly, Lord and Miller were trying a lot of improvisation, and it just wasn’t working. “Thor: Ragnarok” also used a lot of improvisation, and it’s actually one of my least favorite Marvel films because of that (even though I still enjoyed watching it). That technique doesn’t work as well in these types of films, at least for me. Ron Howard did a good job salvaging the film (supposedly reshooting about 70 percent of it), and I REALLY hope this movie does well enough to get a sequel. I’d love to see what Howard could do with full creative control over a “Solo” film from the beginning of the process.

There was a lot of skepticism when Alden Ehrenreich was cast as Han Solo, and the fan concern was understandable. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is such an iconic performance, and you just can’t replicate that. However, I hope that skeptical fans are willing to give Ehrenreich a chance. Once you get used to the fact someone besides Ford is playing Han, Ehrenreich does a good job capturing the spirit of Han Solo while also making the role his own. The Han we meet in this film isn’t the same Han we meet in “A New Hope”; here he’s younger, cockier, and a little more idealistic. I can see how this Han becomes the more cynical, jaded Han in the Original Trilogy.

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I appreciated how this film emphasized just how important “family” is to Han, even if he doesn’t admit it. Han likes to pretend he’s a tough, “too cool for the room” outlaw, but he’ll risk everything to help the people he cares about. This character trait shines through the whole franchise, from Han going back to help Luke blow up the Death Star to finally facing his son, Kylo Ren, and giving him one last chance to turn back to the light.

As expected, Donald Glover steals every scene he’s in as Lando Calrissian. With a smooth charm and a killer sense of style, Glover’s Lando is just about perfect. It’s great to see Chewbacca get some action scenes, and it’s also fun to see Woody Harrelson in a Star Wars film. I also really liked Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra; I won’t give away any spoilers, but there are some interesting layers to this character that are revealed throughout the film.

This film has a lot of nostalgic fan moments; again, I don’t want to give away all of them, but there’s a fun play on Han’s famous “I love you — I know” moment, and Lando mispronounces “Han,” just as he does in “The Empire Strikes Back.” And fans also get some closure for the “Han shot first” debate.

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There are a few of these fan service moments that are a little too over-the-top, such the explanation of how Han got the last name “Solo” (we really didn’t need a backstory for that). And overall the film doesn’t feel as “epic” as Episodes VII and VIII, or “Rogue One.” Still, “Solo” is way better than a film with this much prerelease turmoil had any right to be. We may not have really needed a Han Solo origin film, but now that we have it, I’m really glad it’s part of the Star Wars universe.

Flying Solo: Thoughts on Disney’s upcoming Han Solo spinoff film

solo_teaser_trailer_thumb_native_53989746These days, entertainment news seems to move at the speed of light; after a week, any announcement already feels like “old news.” Yet even though it may be a bit late to share a reaction to the release of the first Han Solo movie trailer, as a diehard Star Wars fan I couldn’t resist. 😉 I’ve actually been mulling over the trailer for the past week and I’ve finally decided how I feel about it. Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic for this film. I really don’t think that Disney *needed* to release a young Han Solo movie, and there are other spinoff topics I would have preferred (Note to Disney: I still REALLY want a quasi-Western solo Obi-Wan film starring Ewan McGregor set in the desert of Tatooine!). However, the “Solo” trailer did make me more excited for this movie, and I do feel a lot more confident about it than I did before, even though I still have some reservations.

The Han Solo spinoff film has been famously troubled behind the scenes, which I think is one of the reasons fans have been skeptical about this film. The original directors — Phil Lord and Chris Miller, of “The Lego Movie” fame — were fired over alleged “creative differences” regarding the project, and Ron Howard was asked to step in. While this firing raised some concerns that Disney was being too controlling or manipulative, in an odd way the news of the firing actually made me more confident about the Han Solo film.

Some fans may disagree, but so far I’ve been very pleased with how Disney has handled Lucasfilm since they acquired the company. They’ve shown they care about the franchise and are willing to take creative risks, but they’re also careful not to damage the brand — at least in my opinion. As much as I loved “The Lego Movie,” if Lord and Miller’s approach wasn’t working for “Solo: A Star Wars” story, I’m glad Disney stepped in and made a change. I’ve heard rumors that Lord and Miller were trying to make “Solo” too much of a comedy and were using a lot of improvisation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach in film; it’s just not necessarily what I want from a Star Wars movie. I think Ron Howard will be able to capture the feel of classic Star Wars a little better.

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That aside, the concern many fans still have is that Disney may have made the change too late. Will “Solo” end up as a cohesive, polished film, or will it feel rushed and choppy after all these shakeups and reshoots? I really wish Disney had pushed this movie back to November or December, instead of moving full speed ahead towards a summer release. However, in the end all the shakeups and skepticism and delayed advertising may work in the film’s favor, because people will probably be curious to see how it will all turn out. If it’s better than people expect, word of mouth is going to do a lot to boost this film.

I almost kinda wish Disney had given us JUST the 45-second Superbowl teaser we got in advance of the full trailer. It’s such a cool little teaser that offers just a hint of what we’re going to be seeing in the film. As many have said, modern trailers tend to reveal a little too much, taking away from some of the mystery of the final film. The teaser gives us just enough to speculate on. Still, there’s also some cool stuff to be seen in the full-length trailer.

I love how gritty and grimy the movie feels, with a similar look to “Rogue One” but with a little “Blade Runner” thrown in. I feel like all the new Disney Star Wars films have had really gorgeous cinematography and a nice blend of digital and practical effects and sets.

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Of course, it’s going to be the characters who make or break this film, and in particular there’s a lot of pressure riding on Alden Ehrenreich as the young Han Solo. Harrison Ford is just so iconic in the role that it’s going to be tough seeing someone else play him. However, I intend to keep an open mind, and I’m rooting for him to succeed. I wanted to share the image above this paragraph because that grin just FEELS like Han Solo to me. I also like the “It’s fine — we’re fine” moment from the trailer. And despite my initial feelings that we don’t *need* to see Han Solo’s origin story, I think this film could be an interesting opportunity to show how Han got to be so cynical and jaded by the time we meet him in “A New Hope.”

Donald Glover immediately feels perfect as Lando, and I can’t wait to see him in this movie. I actually wish this was a Lando spinoff film, with Han Solo as a side character, because we don’t know as much about Lando and there could be lots of opportunities to expand that character. Hopefully he’ll have a sizable role in this film. And I just love Woody Harrelson in whatever he’s in and I am excited to see him join the Star Wars franchise. I’m pretty sure Emilia Clarke’s character is gonna break Han Solo’s heart, either by dying or betraying him. Also, it’s always good to see Chewbacca again.

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So, in the end, I’m looking forward to “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” Maybe it will turn out to be a train wreck and Disney will have to do some soul-searching about these spinoff films. But for whatever reason, I’ve got a good feeling about this. I don’t know if I’ll like it as much as “Rogue One” or Episodes VII and VIII, but I think it will be a fun time at the theater.

So, what do you think? Are you excited for “Solo: A Star Wars Story”? Why or why not?

My top five most anticipated movies of 2018

avengers-infinity-war-poster-comic-conjpegWith 2017 behind us, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2018! There will be plenty of movies to look forward to in theaters this year, including a certain little Marvel movie that will wrap up a decade of build-up. It might make a little money at the box office. 😉

Although it’s always hard to narrow my list down, here are the top five movies I’m most excited about this year!

1. Avengers: Infinity War (May 4), Black Panther (Feb. 16), and Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6)

I’m already cheating on my supposed “five movie limit” by combining these three into one entry, but otherwise I’d only have two slots left in my list. 😉 I’m super excited about all three of these. I’m also glad we only have to wait another month for “Black Panther.” Although I had a lot of fun watching “Thor: Ragnarok” last year, it will be nice to see a little more serious superhero movie like “Black Panther.” I loved his character in “Captain America: Civil War” and can’t wait to find out more about that world. I also think the original “Ant-Man” is sometimes a little underappreciated in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s actually one of my favorites. I’m looking forward to seeing an expanded role for the Wasp. Still, if I had to pick only one most anticipated movie of the year, it would have to be “Infinity War.” It’s hard to believe that this all started back in 2008 with “Iron Man” and has now grown into this expansive cinematic universe. I have a feeling the MCU is going to look a lot different after the fourth Avengers movie wraps up, but it’s been a great ride so far. Hopefully it will be the epic finale to this phase of the MCU that the characters deserve.

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2. Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25)

I’m a huge Star Wars fan; pretty much everybody knows that. So despite my misgivings about a spinoff Han Solo film, I’m definitely willing to give it a chance. I would have much rather Disney given us an Obi-Wan or Boba Fett spinoff movie, but since this is what we’re getting, I’m hoping it will turn out well. I’ve loved all the Disney Star Wars flicks so far, and in an odd way, the director shakeup behind the scenes on the “Solo” set boosted my confidence a little. If Disney had doubts about the direction the film was taking, I’m glad they were willing to brave the negative PR and make a change. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is such an iconic performance and getting audiences to invest in a new actor playing the character is probably the biggest obstacle the film is facing. However, I’m super excited to see Donald Glover as Lando, and it will also be fun to see Woody Harrelson in a Star Wars movie. On another note, I wish they had pushed back the deadline and released this movie in December, rather than summertime so close to “Infinity War.” But it is kinda cool it’s being released on the 41st anniversary of “A New Hope.”

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3. Annihilation (Feb. 23)

“Annihilation” is my pick for best potential breakout movie. I don’t know a lot about the film, other than what I’ve seen in the mysterious, eerie trailers, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’m not even sure how to describe it, really, other than that Natalie Portman’s character is apparently going to investigate some sort of really weird scientific anomaly that is most definitely not benign (based on the title “Annihilation”). Although sometimes an early winter release date doesn’t speak of a lot of confidence from a film studio, sometimes it’s nice to get these movies outside the increasingly crowded summer season. “Black Panther” is going to do very well the weekend before, so I’m hoping this has a shot at being a surprise hit. Hopefully it will offer better sci-fi scares than last summer’s “Alien: Covenant.”

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4. Pacific Rim: Uprising (March 23)

The original “Pacific Rim” does not have a particularly deep plot, characters, or dialogue, but I absolutely love that movie. Where else can you see a giant robot pick up a cargo ship and use it to smash a giant monster? One could argue that the film doesn’t really need a sequel, especially since director Guillermo del Toro isn’t returning. However, I’m actually really excited to see John Boyega heading up a new sci-fi blockbuster. I really loved him as ex-stormtrooper Finn in the new Star Wars trilogy and I think he’s a good fit to play the son of the coolest character in the original movie, Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost. The film’s March release date also might be a good thing, giving it a chance to stand out before the onslaught of summer blockbusters.

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5. Ready Player One (March 30)

The novel “Ready Player One” has been on my “to be read” list for a long time so at this point I’ll probably end up watching the movie first. The story takes place in the dystopian future, where people find solace in a virtual reality world known as OASIS. Teenager Wade Watts enjoys the escape the OASIS provides…until dangerous real-world problems start bleeding into the virtual one. One of the things I’m most excited about in this movie is all the pop culture references that will supposedly be in the film, including “The Iron Giant,” “Back to the Future,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and more. The first Lego movie is the only other film I can think of with this many cool characters mashed together. Plus, this movie was directed by one of my all-time favorite directors — Steven Spielberg — so that’s always a plus!

So, what’s on your “must-see” list for 2018? What will be the biggest hit, or the biggest flop?