NEW YORK (AP) – The Force was a little less strong with â€œStar Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” J.J. Abrams’ Skywalker finale couldn’t match its recent predecessors on opening weekend, but it still amassed a $175.5 million debut that ranked as the third largest weekend of the year.
â€œThe Rise of Skywalkerâ€ came in with worse reviews than any â€œStar Warsâ€ movie except for 1999’s â€œThe Phantom Menace,â€ which famously heralded the debut of Jar Jar Binks. â€œThe Rise of Skywalkerâ€ has a 57% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, too, were relatively lukewarm to the movie, giving it a B+ CinemaScore.
That response may have muted what could have been a record-setting weekend. While Disney had cautiously estimated about a $165 million opening, analysts had pegged â€œThe Rise of Skywalkerâ€ for around $200 million.
â€œThe Rise of Skywalkerâ€ pulled in $374 million worldwide, according to studio estimates Sunday. The film was especially lackluster in China, where all â€œStar Warsâ€ films have struggled. It grossed $12.1 million in the world’s second largest movie marketplace.
Though it proved divisive with fans, 2017’s â€œLast of the Jedi,” directed by Rian Johnson, opened with $220 million and ultimately grossed $1.3 billion worldwide. Abrams’ own â€œThe Force Awakensâ€ set a then-record in 2015 with a $248 million debut and sold more than $2 billion in global tickets.
With the coming holiday period, â€œRise of Skywalkerâ€ is poised to dominate the year’s most lucrative week of moviegoing. Cathleen Taff, distribution chief for Disney, called it a great start.
â€œWith critics, we’ve seen that our movies have received lower scores than not but that they continue to do business because they’re great quality movies for the moviegoer,” said Taff. “Audiences are generally responding really positively to the film.
â€œWe know that people are very passionate about â€˜Star Warsâ€™ and have very strong opinions about it. And we’re fine with that,” added Taff. “We think it’s inspiring to see so many people who want to prompt a discussion around a film.â€
Such expectations did not await Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s â€œCats.â€ The much ridiculed big-screen musical, featuring infamous â€œdigital fur technology,â€ scratched out just $6.5 million in ticket sales, sending Mr. Mistoffelees (and Universal Pictures) home licking their wounds.
The $100 million production, featuring an ensemble including Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, James Corden, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen and Taylor Swift, came in behind projections and opened in a distant fourth place. The movie drew an 18% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and a C-plus CinemaScore from audiences.
â€œEven modest opening in this extraordinary lucrative corridor can prove very kind to films,” said Jim Orr, chief of distribution for Universal. He anticipates the film’s strongest demographic – older moviegoers – will be most available over the holidays. “Our scores from those who are 55 and up are very good and very encouraging.â€
Holdovers â€œJumanji: The Next Level” ($26.1 million in its second weekend) and â€œFrozen 2â€ ($12.3 million in its fifth weekend) both surpassed â€œCats.â€
â€œRise of Skywalkerâ€ culminated a tumultuous period in â€œStar Wars,” finishing off both a trilogy and nine-film cycle begun 42 years ago by George Lucas. In 2012, Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion. While its stewardship of â€œStar Warsâ€ has drawn enormous box-office proceeds, â€œThe Rise of Skywalker” had its work cut out in trailing both the much-debated â€œLast of the Jediâ€ and the 2018 dud â€œSolo: A Star Wars Story.â€
In November, Disney chief executive Bob Iger told investors that â€œStar Warsâ€ will go â€œinto a hiatusâ€ after â€œRise of Skywalker.â€ The next â€œStar Warsâ€ movie, which is to be set outside the Skywalker saga, isn’t scheduled for release until 2022. â€œGame of Thronesâ€ makers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss recently pulled out of planned â€œStar Warsâ€ trilogy.
Lately, â€œStar Warsâ€ has also been a hit on the small screen, too. â€œThe Mandalorianâ€ helped launch the Disney Plus streaming service. To make way for â€œRise of Skywalker,â€ the latest episode of â€œThe Mandalorianâ€ debuted on Wednesday, instead of Friday.
But Disney can still make considerable demands on theaters for â€œStar Wars” films. Disney charges theaters 65% of ticket sales, or about 10 percentage points more than standard, for â€œStar Warsâ€ releases, and requires a run of four weeks.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore, said the opening for â€œRise of Skywalkerâ€ could only be considered a disappointment for Disney. The film will likely become Disney’s seventh $1 billion release of the year (a record) and give the studio seven of the top 10 films of the year.
â€œIt’s time to devote a lot of attention to the streaming environment for â€˜Star Warsâ€™ and then come back with a vengeance,â€ said Dergarabedian.” There’s a lot of lessons to be learned and certainly from this latest installment.”
â€œRise of Skywalkerâ€ helped improve the shortfall at the box office compared to last year, but ticket sales are still running 4.6% behind 2018, according to Comscore.
In its national expansion, the Lionsgate Fox News drama â€œBombshellâ€ underperformed expectations with $5.1 million in 1,481 theaters. Rian Johnson’s â€œLast Jediâ€ follow-up, the starry whodunit â€œKnives Outâ€ continues to do strong business for Lionsgate. After $6.1 million in its sixth weekend, it has grossed $185.6 million globally.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included.
1. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” $175.5 million ($198 million international).
2. â€œJumanji: The Next Level,â€ $26.1 million ($32.6 million international).
3. â€œFrozen 2,â€ $12.3 million ($31.6 million international).
4. â€œCats,â€ $6.5 million ($4.4 million international).
5. â€œKnives Out,â€ $6.1 million.
6. â€œBombshell,â€ $5.1 million.
7. â€œRichard Jewell,â€ $2.6 million.
8. â€œQueen & Slim,â€ $1.9 million.
9. â€œBlack Christmas,â€ $1.8 million.
10. â€œFord v Ferrari,â€ $1.8 million.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP