The Box Office Force Is Strong With ‘Skywalker’

 ‘Twas the weekend before Christmas,

And all through the land,

People were checking out the finale of a franchise 

in which a character once proclaimed he hated sand…

The final chapter in the Star Wars Skywalker Saga, Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, launched with a bang this weekend at theaters worldwide. While the new J.J. Abrams film opened lower than The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Rise did score the third biggest December opening of all time. Skywalker also ran over Universal’s future camp classic Cats and Lionsgate’s Oscar wannabe Bombshell, a science fiction film that dares us to empathize with Megyn “White Santa” Kelly.

Capping off the new trilogy started four years ago with The Force Awakens, The Rise of Skywalker began its holiday box office ascent in 4,406 venues this past Thursday night, earning $177.3 million in its debut weekend. The opening for Skywalker was approximately 20% lower than the $220 million The Last Jedi commanded in its first three days and approximately 30% lower than the $247 cleared by The Force Awakens back in December of 2015.

Anyone who follows the movie business knows that the weekend before Christmas is usually a very slow time at the box office. With both the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays either getting underway or just about to, having The Rise of Skywalker open as big as it did is impressive as most were distracted with holiday festivities and last-minute shopping. Rise’s box office will dip a bit today and Tuesday as people travel to their holiday destinations, but it should rebound nicely starting on Christmas Day and continue strong throughout the remainder of the year.

Release date aside, the lower opening for Skywalker can be attributed to a few other factors. The first is that old nemesis of many an aging film series, franchise fatigue. Then there is the two years of toxic –and unnecessary- feedback from bitter nerds that has plagued The Last Jedi over the past two years, an online stink that no doubt turned off many a people from seeing the new film. Then there is Disney’s saturation of Star Wars product on the market. Long ago, you would get one Star Wars film every three years. With the arrival of Skywalker, we have had films in the past four years. It’s all fine and good to have Star Wars back, but too much in too short of a time span can cause casual viewers to take a pass on the latest Rehash of the Jedi.

Another stumbling block for the new film? The reviews. Unlike the previous two installments, the critics weren’t all that thrilled with the latest intergalactic exploits of Rey, Finn and Poe. The Rise of Skywalker scored a lukewarm 58% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and an equally middling 54/100 on Metacritic. The RT rating stands as the second-lowest rated chapter of the 42-year old saga (The Phantom Menace still remains at the bottom of the barrel at 53%). Ticket buyers polled on CinemaScore approved of the new Wars, although not as lovingly as they have previous installments. They gave Rise a “B+.” In comparison, each of the Prequel Trilogy films scored an “A-.” Let that sink in for a minute.

While The Rise of Skywalker won’t sink the box office lows of 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, there is a strong possibility that the new film will fall short of the $620 million box office of The Last Jedi and possibly even the $532 million pocketed by Rogue One three years ago. The second and third weekends for Rise are what will dictate the final haul for the final chapter.

Overseas, The Rise of Skywalker got underway with $198 million this past weekend. The top markets for Rise were the United Kingdom ($26.8 million), Germany ($21.8 million), France ($15.2 million), Japan ($14.2 million) and Australia ($12.6 million). The new Star Wars also opened in China this weekend, where it stumbled out of the gate with $12 million.

With the Star Wars gang back in town, last week’s champ Jumanji: The Next Level took it down a level to second place with $26.5 million from 4,227 theaters. Down 55%, The Next Level has earned $102.3 million after ten days. While it is highly unlikely the new Jumanji will come close to the $400 million box office 2017’s Welcome to the Jungle achieved, it should be able to clear at least $200 million by the end of its holiday run. Overseas, Jumanji: The Next Level has cleared $210 million so far.

Landing in third place was Disney’s other holiday cash cow, Frozen II. The animated sequel had a solid hold as it only dropped 32% in its fifth weekend to add $12.98 million from 3,665 screens. After five weeks, Frozen II has brought home $387.2 million. Internationally, Frozen II has amassed $717.2 million so far.

Whatever stumbling blocks The Rise of Skywalker faced or is facing on a creative and financial level, they are nothing compared to Universal’s Cats, which barfed up a box office hairball good for only $6.6 million from 3,380 screens. Critics were downright merciless to the Tom Hooper-directed feature, giving Cats a 17% approval on Rotten Tomatoes and a 32/100 on Metacritic. The public that did venture out to witness the biggest bomb of the 2019 Christmas Movie Season were equally as unimpressed as the critics were. They gave Cats a “C+.” Bad kitty, Bad.

Rounding out the top five this weekend was Lionsgate’s Knives Out, which dipped a mere 29% in its fourth weekend on 2,535 theaters to earn an estimated $6.5 million. The acclaimed Rian Johnson mystery-comedy has banked a great $90 million in North America so far and an additional $96 million overseas. Knives Out should wind down its domestic run near the $125 million mark.

  1. Bombshell (Lionsgate) $5 million; $5.5 million

Reviews were mixed for the Jay Roach’s Fox News sexual harassment tale, which can only hinder the film’s box office and year-end award chances.

  1. Richard Jewell (Warner) $2.58 million (-45%); $9.5 million
  2. Queen & Slim (Universal) $1.85 million (-48%); $36.5 million
  3. Black Christmas (Universal) $1.8 million (-58%); $7.2 million
  4. Ford v. Ferrari (Fox) $1.8 million (-56%) $102 million

Christmas Day brings the arrival of the acclaimed Uncut Gems, Greta Gerwig’s fantastic adaptation of Little Womenand the animated feature Spies in Disguise.

Happy Holidays, everybody! We’ll see you back here in 2020.

The heroes on The Falcon

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