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Why the failure of ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story‘ could spell bad news for Hollywood

Alden Ehrenreich plays a young Han Solo and Joonas Suotamoin plays Chewbacca in a scene from “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” (Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm via AP)

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” did not do well last weekend. As Yoda might say, there was no doing, and no trying.

As you’ve no doubt heard, the movie barely grossed $29 million — a paltry figure that represented a 65 percent plummet from the week before.

The drop would have been bad enough — any second-weekend slip of greater than 60 percent isn’t good, and the 65 percent threshold really isn’t good. But “Solo’s” slow second weekend came with an added mark of notoriety: No major movie opened against it. The “Star Wars” installment brought out an audience only one-third the size of its opening weekend, and there wasn’t even anything new to divert moviegoers’ attention.

That’s surely a bad omen for those affiliated with the “Star Wars” franchise. But it’s also a bad omen for a much larger group: the rest of Hollywood.

If you’ve followed entertainment business news in recent years, you’ve heard a lot about the domestic opening weekend — who won it, who lost it, what records were set, what movies made us stay home.

But a more nuanced analysis looks not just at winners and losers that first weekend but another metric, that of the second-weekend drop —  that is, the comparative loss in dollars in a film’s second weekend of release. Those drops can tell a larger tale about a film’s staying power — even, sometimes, of the current appeal of moviegoing to the American consumer.

When a major release has a box office drop of less than 50 percent on the second weekend, that means the word of mouth of is good, people are coming, and the film is likely to have a long and healthy life (among those in this category in recent years: “Wonder Woman,” “The Hangover” and “The Avengers”). And it means, in turn, moviegoing is strong.

On the other hand, when there’s a big drop — usually above 60 percent — it indicates the opposite.

You could refine that metric even further by examining second-weekend drops of more than 60 percent when there’s no major new opening — no fresh franchise film to eat into its audience and explain it all away. That’s a whole different category of failure.

A big drop with no competition, in other words, is a true red flag for the box office, just as a low drop is a mark of great health. Like good and bad cholesterol, you can tell a lot about Hollywood’s health by looking at the ratio between these numbers.

In fact, over the past few years this ratio has proved remarkably accurate in predicting the overall box office of the spring-summer period (roughly from the middle of April to the end of July, when the franchise films start petering out).

Only in two of  the last six years did these red-flaggers outnumber the low-droppers in the spring-summer period: in 2017 (thanks to “Transformers: The Last Knight,” “War of the Planet of the Apes” and “The Fate of the Furious”) and 2014 (thanks to “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction”). Not coincidentally, those were the only two years in the last six that saw a box office dip for the whole year.

In every other year? The number of those healthy low-droppers at least equaled that of the red-flaggers. And box office  was always up for the year.

It’s not tough to see why this dropping ratio is so indicative of the larger state of moviegoing. If audiences are quickly losing interest in films after they open and are failing to head into those theaters even when there’s nothing else taking their attention, they’re just not into movies that month, or season.

If movies aren’t dropping, that means that they’re holding moviegoers’ attention. Fans are coming out in the second and even third week, making up for movies they missed opening weekend or returning to watch them again.

And that’s where “Solo” becomes a concern — not just for Disney and Lucasfilm studios but for the health of Hollywood as a whole.

Coming into last weekend, the spring-summer period had seen no low-droppers or red-flaggers. Every major release had either dropped between 50 percent and 60 percent in its second weekend, or, if it dropped more than 60 percent, it was because another big movie opened and took its spot. Now, at the beginning of June, Hollywood has a red-flagger, a movie that dropped at least 60 percent with nothing else opening against it. And that means box office as a whole is suddenly looking not so healthy.

Ah, but what about the success of “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” you ask? Each has grossed more than $600 million. And it’s true — both have buoyed the box office, offsetting disappointments like “A Wrinkle in Time.” Sleeper hit “A Quiet Place” hasn’t hurt, either. Box office year-to-date is up 7 percent.

But don’t read too much into those numbers. Last year at this time, box office was also up compared with the year before, by nearly 3 percent. But by the end of August things had cratered, and overall box office was down more than 6 percent. The spring-summer period is when Hollywood makes — or loses — its fortune.

So it will be up to a host of franchise sequels coming up to ensure that the black ink doesn’t turn red, as it did last summer. Those include “Ocean’s 8,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” all landing in the weeks ahead.

Hollywood has been desperately trying to avoid a repeat of 2017. The numbers for “Solo” signal some rockiness, and then some, for the “Star Wars” franchise. It just could be bad news for everyone else too.