Sat. Aug 8th, 2020

Box Office Estimates (Dec. 20-22): ‘Star Wars’ rises to the top spot, ‘Cats’ stinks to high Heaviside

For the last time for at least a little while, a Star Wars release dominated the pre-Christmas weekend box office with an estimated $175.5 million opening weekend. There’s a slight air of disappointment around that number, as that is a decline from the first weekends of The Force Awakens ($248 million) and The Last Jedi ($220 million), landing closer to the opening of spin-off movie Rogue One ($155.1 million). However, it is still the 12th biggest opening weekend of all time, and the 3rd biggest December opening weekend of all time. For a reminder of how hard it is to have a big opening in December, the last four Star Wars December releases remain the only films to ever have an opening weekend above $85 million, and three of those films (including Rise of Skywalker) opened to more than double that amount.

And while this will obviously not be the last Star Wars movie ever released, and probably not the last Star Wars to do well at the box office, it’s worth taking a moment to consider, Solo aside, the incredible box office run this franchise has been on for over 40 years. After the first Star Wars movie in 1977 became the highest grossing movie of all time in America, every “episode” entry in the franchise since then has managed to become one of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time upon release, save for Attack of the Clones in 2002, which “only” peaked at 11th place. That is a level of consistency across the decades that no franchise may ever be able to match ever again. For all of the flack these movies have received from fans, for as much as China has roundly rejected these movies, it is one of the most consistent cash cows in the history of movies, and with marking the end of the “Skywalker Saga” episodes, this will most likely be the highest we see any of these movies go for a while.

But will The Rise of Skywalker manage to outgross Incredibles 2 ($608.6 million) to enter the all time top 10 in America? At this moment it looks unlikely, but with holiday legs one can never be sure. Two unpromising signs: a “B+” Cinemascore (the lowest score ever for a live-action Star Wars movie), and a Saturday drop (-47%) bigger than the last three December Star Wars releases that might indicate more frontloading than ever for the franchise. However, with Christmas Day falling on the movie’s 6th day of release, that means the holiday boost will be kicking in sooner than it did for those three movies, so it may still have some time to recover. At the very least, $500 million seems like a fair floor for the movie, with legs similar to The Last Jedi. That would be lower than almost anyone was expecting for the final movie in the “Skywalker Saga,” but any film series could only dream of ending on a domestic total that high.

The other big opener this weekend also requires a “holiday legs can always help!” caveat, but nothing short of Greatest Showman-sized legs will be able to save this movie. Cats opened to $6.5 million, an opening that could easily be referred to as “catastrophic” in a very punny way, but that seems overplayed at this point. It is however a pretty terrible start – the 2nd worst opening weekend of all time for a movie released in over 3,300 theaters, “behind” only Missing Link from earlier this year. But can holiday legs save it? The last time Christmas fell on a Wednesday (2013), the leggiest December 20 release was Saving Mr. Banks, which had a 8.9 multiplier from its opening weekend. Legs that strong would drag Cats to a $57.9 million domestic total, but where critics likes Mr. Banks and audiences loved it, giving it an A Cinemascore, Cats has been trashed by critics and bestowed with a C+ from Cinemascore, one of the worst scores ever for a musical (a traditionally crowd-pleasing genre). A multiplier of at least 5 seems likely however, so look for a final total north of $32 million.

The last big wide release of the weekend also came in below expectations, although there are a lot less reasons to be concerned for that film going forward. Bombshell entered wide release with a $5.1 million, enough for 6th place. The film got off to a strong start in limited release last weekend, but upfront demand for the true story drama ended up being lower in wide release than it was on the coasts. Still, unlike Star Wars or Cats, no one outside of strongest Actressing stans were ever gonna rush out for Bombshell, which is exactly the kind of movie whose audience will come out for it once Christmas is over and done and once audiences are more eager to catch up on awards contenders. Expect a multiplier of at least 6 from this weekend for a final total above $30 million.

With the release of Star Wars sucking up so much air, it is worth highlighting a few solid holds for the older releases. Jumanji: The Next Level dropped -56% in its second to $26.1 million, which might look like a lot initially, but for a much-hyped sequel immeidately facing direct four-quadrant competition, it’s a pretty strong number, and promising indication that people are still eager to seek out this follow-up. Meanwhile, only two movies had drops under -45% this weekend: Frozen II dropped -36% to $12.3 million, while Knives Out had the best hold in the top 10 for a second weekend in a row, falling only -33% to $6.1 million. The Knives Out hold is doubly impressive since it lost about 25% of its theaters from last weekend, meaning its per-theater-average managed to stay almost flat even as a new Star Wars movie ate up so many screens. Expect some exceptionally strong holds for that film as the holiday season kicks into high gear.

1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – $175.5 million (NEW)
2. Jumanji: The Next Level – $26.1 million (-56%)
3. Frozen II – $12.3 million (-36%)
4. Cats – $6.5 million (NEW)
5. Knives Out – $6.5 million (-33%)
6. Bombshell – $5.1 million (EXPANSION)
7. Richard Jewell – $2.6 million (-49%)
8. Queen & Slim – $1.85 million (-48%)
9. Ford v Ferrari – $1.8 million (-56%)
10. Black Christmas – $1.8 million (-58%)

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