The final episode of the Skywalker Saga opened in theaters starting Thursday night and will be dominating the top spot for several weeks to come. The $175 million weekend estimate that J.J. Abrams’ film put up this weekend will have some takes from both the half-empty and the half-full camps depending on their investment. Those hoping for disappointment are bound to be themselves as the film is a true-blue moneymaker and is going to find a home amongst the all-timers. But we are here to break down both glasses and see which one is fuller.
For starters, there are two areas where Episode IX is not looking like a champion. One is with critics who have been decidedly mixed on the film resulting in a 57% on the Tomatometer; the second-lowest of the nine-episode Saga ahead of just The Phantom Menace (53%.) The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are amongst the top four with 93% & 91%, respectively. Another that may buck the trend of Star Wars history is the direct performance of the sequels. The box office per each trilogy has followed a pretty specific pattern. The first film is a major blockbuster. The 1977 original became the highest-grossing film of all-time up until 1982’s E.T.. The Phantom Menace in 1999 was second only to Titanic on the all-time scale and The Force Awakens still currently holds the crown for the #1 film in domestic box office history. The second film in each trilogy then dipped. The Empire Strikes Back made 31.9% less. Attack of the Clones 34.6% and The Last Jedi 33.8%. But then Return of the Jedi made $19 million more and Revenge of the Sith made $70 million more. The Rise of Skywalker has already begun with a disadvantage opening with $175 million compared to The Last Jedi’s $220 million start.
But then consider where The Rise of Skywalker already has staked out in lists. It is the 12th highest opening in history (and the 3rd highest in December behind the previous two Star Wars.) It had the 5th best total in Thursday previews with $40 million behind Episodes VII & VIII as well as the final Avengers and Harry Potter films and 6th highest Friday opening ever (which includes Thurs previews) with Infinity War being in that mix. Word-of-mouth will now determine if those rankings remain consistent the next few weeks. That film’s 10-day total was the 4th best at the time (7th best currently), it still has the 4th best 17-&-24-day total ever and remains the 8th highest-grossing domestic film of all-time and 13th all-time worldwide with $1.33 billion.
The Rise of Skywalker should hit the billion mark. (It is over $374 million worldwide in 3.5 days.) Rogue One opened to $155 million and reached $500 million so that milestone right now is also likely to make ROS just the 15th film ever to achieve that goal. They’ve already achieved that globally. $650 million is likely the goal Disney and Lucasfilm would have wanted to hit domestically, but that now seems quite out of reach. The Last Jedi was down to $23.7 million in its 4th weekend and that could be the one (Jan. 10-12, 2020) where ROS relinquishes its #1 spot to perhaps the expansion of Sam Mendes’ WWI film, 1917.
After months of sniping at its first trailer and a week of critical lambasting, Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats ($6.5 million) appears to be an immediate bust. Conservatively the film is budgeted at $80 million to as much as $95 million (the number could be even higher) so any single digit opening is going to cause concern for those who bankrolled it. They may be looking at those who ponied up the $84 million to make The Greatest Showman two years ago when it started with just an $8.8 million opening weekend after a $4.5 million lead-in from its Wednesday Christmas opening. They certainly sighed relief when it went on to gross over $174 million. Hooper’s backers may be coughing up hairballs. Cats does not likely have a 19x multiple. That is just a $1,923 per-theater-average which puts it in the category of From Justin to Kelly ($1,357 PTA) and Newsies ($1,008 PTA). The Greatest Showman also had just a $2,929 PTA that opening weekend, but word-of-mouth boosted that number and it did not dip lower until its eighth week. Sweeney Todd and 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera managed to get themselves over $50 million, so maybe there is still a Christmas miracle for the critically-lambasted (19%) effort, even as a goof or a dare. Either way, we are likely to not see a big-screen version of Starlight Express anytime soon.
In these times as one should expect moviegoers do not exactly want a mix of politics with their eggnog. Last year’s Vice made over $47 million, but that was bolstered a bit by its awards run and was ultimately more then than now. Despite lining up critically with Vice’s 66%, the 65%-rated Bombshell did not turn too many heads in theaters this weekend. Starting with $5 million and expanding into 1,480 theaters, Jay Roach’s film about the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News, made $5.8 million. That is just a $3,429 per-theater-average compared to Vice’s $3,181 in 2,442 theaters in its first weekend. But that was also after its $9.9 million three day headstart opening on Christmas through Dec. 27. Bombshell debuted with a solid $319,157 in four theaters last week but could fade much faster than Adam McKay’s film.
Last week’s short-lived #1, Jumanji: The Next Level, became the 23rd film to open in December and gross $100 million in its first ten days. Marley and Me is the only film on that list to fail to reach $200 million. (It grossed $143.15 million.) On the other hand Marley (which was a Christmas Day release) grossed $24.26 million in its second weekend. The Next Level fell 56% to $26 million which is the second lowest on that list of 23. The only December films since 1985 to gross less than $30 million in their second weekend and reach $200 million were 2005’s King Kong and Alvin and the Chipmunks. So it is possible Jumanji is fading faster than we may have expected. It is up to $312 million worldwide.
Disney’s Frozen II rose to over $386 million this weekend. That is the 18th best total ever after 31 days of release and is still $15 million ahead of the pace of all-time November opening champ, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, in that period and had a fifth weekend around $4 million better. So with solid daily numbers over the Christmas vacation the film is likely headed for a final gross between $440-450 million. Worldwide the film has grossed $1.103 billion is now the 29th highest-grossing film ever and will be in the Top 20 when it leaves theaters. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is now fully in the driver’s seat to pass $100 million. Every November release to gross $85 million after 26 days have done it and that includes Ford v Ferrari which did it this weekend. Johnson’s murder mystery is up to nearly $90 million domestic and over $185 million worldwide. FvF is at $193 million globally, falling well short of the $250 million it needed to recoup its costs. Knives is looking to become Lionsgate’s second most profitable film of the year after John Wick 3.
Finally, still in limited release, Uncut Gems with Adam Sandler fell to $235,000 from last week’s stellar fourth-best-ever opening in five theaters ($537,242). It is still in those five theaters and that is still a very solid total. Zero Dark Thirty made $316,415 (fallen from $417,150) during its second week in five venues. The Iron Lady and I, Tonya moved from 4 into 5 theaters and grossed $176,374 & $171,279, respectfully. Gems’ gross was nearly as much as Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life made ($250,000) when it expanded into 106 theaters this weekend. The real test will be when A24 moves the Safdie’s film into wide release on Christmas Day.
Christmas Eve and Day were on Monday and Tuesday last year and the weekend leading up to them was flooded with new releases. The big winner was James Wan’s Aquaman which may have started with one of DC’s lowest openings in $67.87 million, it nevertheless became their highest-grossing film to date. Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns was coming off of a Wednesday opening and finished in second place with $23.52 million. Transformers spinoff, Bumblebee, got the best reviews of the whole series but began with a paltry $21.65 million. This year’s Top Ten grossed an estimated $239.64 Million and averaged 67.2% with critics.
Christmas Day has a little something for everyone. Maybe even something big given the critical response to many of them. Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to Lady Bird is the latest adaptation of Little Women and it has already become one of the best-reviewed films of the year and quite the player during awards season. That is likely to be matched by a strong performance at the box office over the holidays and onwards towards the Oscars. Sam Mendes’ 1917 is also drawing major praise from critics and fellow filmmakers alike. Will his “one-take” war adventure be equally embraced by moviegoers? For families there is the animated Spies in Disguise is drawing enough likes to be on the right side of the Tomatometer but can it be a late-season substitute for those not choosing between Star Wars, Jumanji and Frozen II? We’ll also be looking at the limited releases of justice drama, Just Mercy, with Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson as well as seeing how Uncut Gems reacts to an expansion.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]