“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” ended up at $175 million per initial estimates, exactly where advance tracking suggested it would land — about 20% down from the similar pre-Christmas opening weekend two years ago for “The Last Jedi.”
But in its own way, “Cats” will leave a greater impact. It opened at #4 with $6.5 million. With bad reviews that threaten to become more celebrated than the film itself, it’s headed to uncharted territory. (By comparison: “Bombshell” earned about $5.1 million in fewer than half the screens.)
The total for all films this weekend is around $245 million, making it the third biggest of the year and about $70 million more than the same weekend last year, which opened with “Aquaman.” Even so, it suggests that the full-year shortfall will be over $400,000, around 4%.
“Lords of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Avengers: Endgame” showed that trilogy-ending entries in top franchises can top earlier ones. That was never going to happen here, with the heat surrounding “The Force Awakens” impossible to match.
Even so, $45 million under “Jedi” is disappointing. “Jedi” came a bit earlier in the month, not the last pre-Christmas weekend. More franchise sequels have been under expectations this year. And finally, the reviews — the worst in the franchise’s history — likely made some difference.
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More worrisome is the audience trajectory, which is about 12% down compared to “Jedi.” That suggests a front-loaded film; similarly, the Cinemascore of B+ (“Force” and “Jedi” both received an A) also indicates a lukewarm response.
Where does this leave “Skywalker”? An easy win as the biggest film for the rest of the holiday, with totals respectable at least for the next couple weeks. But even if it has the same multiple as “Jedi” (which is optimistic, because early signs of lesser enthusiasm tend to grow), this will fall short of $500 million domestic.
Of course, that is still a very strong number. And it likely still gets to $1 billion worldwide or close. Again, nothing wrong with that other than comparison to the past (“Jedi” was $1.332 billion). But in a year with multiple warning signs as well as great triumphs, something to think about.
Christmas seems to be gripped by a scratchy “Cats” fever, which certainly isn’t the strain Universal might have wanted. A derided trailer led to derisive reviews; the final indignity came with replacement disks sent to theaters this weekend to correct missing FX (such as Rebel Wilson’s missing lower leg).
Social media is in love with Tom Hooper’s $95 million film, but audiences are not. Yes, “The Greatest Showman” two years ago has been cited as a precedent since it opened early with mediocre reviews, then hit a wave and soared. However, “Showman” received an A Cinemascore; “Cats” stands at C+.
It is possible the often hysterical reaction to the film might bring people into theaters for a different experience. The enterprising Alamo Drafthouse folks already set up a costume event for the film Sunday afternoon at their Los Angeles location. Few films since “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” have sought a chance to be reborn as a cult event, but that isn’t likely to be the short-term course. This will need to show what it can do through the holidays, and there’s a chance that its international appeal will take a different course. (It made about 2/3s the domestic total in its U.K./Ireland release, with only about 20% of the population.)
At $5.1 million, “Bombshell” is a work in progress. After a strong platform debut, it opened wide to results that could lead to increased interest once Christmas starts. Saturday showed a minor drop from Friday previews. Compared to “Vice” last year, which opened on December 25 in 1,000 more theaters, “Bombshell” had a higher first-weekend PTA. That looks like a positive sign.
Curiously, this means a dilemma for Lionsgate: Sleeper success “Knives Out” actually grossed more this weekend, with another strong hold (down only 33%, that’s good any time and terrific at the holidays). The company is well positioned to claim two screens at most top theaters ahead.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” at $26 million (-56%) is primed to thrive during the holidays. It is already at $100 million, but it’s unlikely to equal the $400 million of its predecessor. Still, it is a strong player ahead. Similarly, “Frozen II,” down 35%, could see another $100 million.
Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” dropped 45%. That’s not a bad hold, except it started in a bad place. Universal’s “Black Christmas” dropped 58% in its second weekend and has little life left.
1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 54; Est. budget: $275 million
$175,500,000 in 4,406 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $39,832; Cumulative: $175,500,000
2. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$26,125,000 (-56%) in 4,227 theaters (no change); PTA: $6,181; Cumulative: $101,936,000
3. Frozen II (Disney) Week 5; Last weekend #2
$12,300,000 (-35%) in 3,665 theaters (-413); PTA: $3,356; Cumulative: $383,534,000
4. Cats (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic: 32; Est. budget: $95 million
$6,500,000 in 3,380 theaters; PTA: $1,923; Cumulative: $6,500,000
5. Knives Out (Lionsgate) Week 4; Last weekend #3
$6,125,000 (-33%) in 2,535 theaters (-878); PTA: $2,416; Cumulative: $89,574,000
6. Bombshell (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #19
$5,075,000 (+1,490-%) in 1,480 theaters (+1,476); PTA: $3,429; Cumulative: $5,484,000
7. Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #4
$2,565,000 (-45%) in 2,502 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,025; Cumulative: $9,518,0000
8. Queen & Slim (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend #7
$1,850,000 (-48%) in 1,078 theaters (-482); PTA: $1,716; Cumulative: $36,599,000
9. (tie) Black Christmas (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #5
$1,800,000 (-58%) in 2,625 theaters (no change); PTA: $686; Cumulative: $7,249,000
9. Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox) Week 6; Last weekend #6
$1,800,000 (-56%) in 1,433 theaters (-1,462); PTA: $1,256; Cumulative: $101,962,000