Disney is capping off its banner year at the box office with “Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker,” director J.J. Abram’s grand conclusion to a nine-chapter saga that kicked off more than four decades ago.
The finale to George Lucas’ space opera set in a galaxy far, far away is arriving in theaters with outsized expectations, and not just because it caps off a franchise that helped usher in the modern blockbuster era of moviemaking. It’s also providing something of a lifeline to the theatrical exhibition business. Box office receipts have dipped 5% below last year as sequels and spinoffs to high-profile properties like “Men in Black” and “X-Men” sputtered in spectacular fashion. Theater owners and studios alike are hoping the return of Rey, Poe Dameron, Finn and Kylo Ren can help end the year on an upswing.
The latest “Star Wars” will easily crush its fellow big-screen competition this weekend. The only question that remains is how high can ticket sales soar?
“Rise of Skywalker” is still on pace to kick off to a mighty $175 million to $200 million when it debuts in 4,300 North American theaters. Since box office tracking is an inexact science and there aren’t many comparisons for “Star Wars” films, Disney is more cautiously predicting a start around $160 million. While that figure is more than most films make in their entire theatrical run, the lower end of those estimates would rank as one of the weakest opening weekends for the franchise.
Outside of “Star Wars” movies, December releases typically see smaller debuts but have healthy multiples as patrons visit theaters multiple times over the holiday season. The month’s biggest launches all belong to “Star Wars:” 2015’s “The Force Awakens” ($248 million), 2017’s “The Last Jedi” ($220 million), and 2016’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” ($155 million). Should estimates hold, “Rise of Skywalker” could be one of four movies this year — joining “Avengers: Endgame” ($357 million), “The Lion King” ($191 million) and “Captain Marvel” ($153 million) — to debut above $150 million.
“Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” will also get a boost from overseas, where it debuts day and date in most major markets. For comparison, “The Last Jedi” got things started with $235 million, while “The Force Awakens” launched with $312 million.
J.J. Abrams returned to direct “Rise of Skywalker,” having previously helmed “The Force Awakens,” still the highest-grossing movie ever in North America with $936 million. Globally, “The Force Awakens” earned $2 billion and “The Last Jedi” grossed $1.3 billion.
Whether or not “Rise of Skywalker” sets any records, it will only further Disney’s historic year at the box office. Six movies in 2019 surpassed $1 billion globally, including “Avengers: Endgame,” “Captain Marvel,” “The Lion King” and “Frozen 2,” pushing Disney past $10 billion worldwide. It’s the first studio to ever hit that benchmark.
“The Rise of Skywalker” picks up a year after the events of “The Last Jedi” and sees Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and the remaining members of the Resistance again face off against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. Carrie Fisher, who died in 2016, will appear through unused footage from prior “Star Wars” films.
“Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” has received polarizing reviews, to say the least, but it’s not the only new movie that’s of high intrigue. Universal’s “Cats,” the big-screen adaptation based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical, has been the subject of much scrutiny since its trailer inspired wave after wave of Twitter hate. The musical, an early adopter of the phenomenon known as “digital fur technology,” is expected to earn $15 million to $17 million from 3,200 locations. It carries a $100 million price tag, meaning it’ll need multiple lives in theaters to turn a profit.
Director Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables,” “The King’s Speech”) is giving “Cats” a new life on the big screen, enlisting a starry cast includes James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift and Rebel Wilson. It centers on a tribe of cats called the Jellicles, one of whom will be selected to receive a new life.
Elsewhere, Lionsgate is expanding “Bombshell” nationwide in 1,450 venues after the drama launched in limited release last weekend. The awards hopeful, based on female Fox News anchors who went public with sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes, kicked off with $312,000 from four screens. It should collect between $7 million and $14 million over the weekend.
“This is going to be a pivotal and key weekend in the ongoing box-office saga,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “The release of ‘Rise Of Skywalker’ will mark the start of a very late year turnaround. A host of other films, blockbusters and awards season contenders among them, should serve to give Hollywood its fifth $11 billion-plus year in a row and start 2020 off on a high note.”