After holding its dominance over the box office year in America three years in a row (and one Solo hiccup), the Star Wars franchise takes aim at ruling the box office one more time with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker before going back into hibernation (in theaters, anyway). The franchise has had a rocky few years, coming hot out the gate with The Force Awakens in 2015, which broke the opening weekend box office record at the time with a $247 million start, and went on to become the highest grossing movie of all time in America, a title it still holds. But after spinoff entry Rogue One performed strongly in 2016, the release of The Last Jedi was met with such a divisive reaction from fans that the film is now viewed by some as an all-around failure, even the film’s $1.33 billion worldwide gross meant plenty of profit for Disney.
Still, following the obnoxiously loud dissent towards Last Jedi and the flat-out bombing of Solo: A Star Wars Story, there is some anxiety around this film’s box office performance. Not helping matters are some of the worst reviews in the franchise’s history – the film’s 58% score on Rotten Tomatoes is the second worst for the franchise ahead of only The Phantom Menace, and any opening above $150 million would make it only the third “rotten” film to open that high, after Batman v Superman and this year’s Lion King remake. And yet even with all of this brouhaha, tracking for the film remains strong. Even amidst all the negativity, ticket sales are keeping pace with The Last Jedi, which opened two years ago to $220 million. Of course, the power of Star Wars has always come not just from its devoted fanbase, but to the casual moviegoers that come out in droves for what has, in America at least, become a national institution. has the rampant negativity surrounding the franchise in the last two years dampened that enthusiasm? It seems possible. While a $200+ million opening is still not out of the question, a start at $185 million seems likely, and would still be an amazing opening in the middle of December.
But even with those variables, Rise of Skywalker is far from the biggest question mark opening this weekend. That honor goes to Cats, the much-anticipated, much-mocked adaptation of one of the most successful stage musicals of all time. Ever since its 18-year run on Broadway from 1982 to 2000, studios have been trying to figure out how to turn that phenomenon into a profitable movie, and Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper thought he had the right idea, utilizing new visual effects technology and an all star cast to create something truly unique. Unfortunately, when that unique vision was unveiled in July in the film’s first trailer, it was met with almost universal derision towards the design of the cats, and the only real anticipation that was born out of it was a morbid kind of anticipation, waiting to see if the movie could be as miscalculated as that first trailer. With a 20% score on Rotten Tomatoes, that appears to have been the case.
Now, the question remains: is the brand of Cats still powerful enough to make this a profitable hit? And it remains a difficult one to answer. Musicals have been a fruitful venture for studios over the holidays in recent years, whether they’re original works (La La Land, The Greatest Showman) or working off of classic material (Mary Poppins Returns, Into the Woods, Tom Hooper’s own Les Miserables). Even a similarly derided musical like 2014’s Annie, with a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, was able to gross nearly $86 million while playing over the holidays. At the very least, a high opening seems unlikely with Star Wars sucking up all of the air in the room this weekend, so Universal will need to hope that audiences this weekend are more forgiving than critics so that word-of-mouth doesn’t kill the film before the holiday box office boost kicks in. Look out for a first weekend gross of $14 million, although an opening $10 million higher or lower than that would not surprise this predictor.
The last major wide release this weekend, Bombshell, looks to have a much more low-key start than either of the above films. Opening in 1,480 theaters, distributor Lionsgate is looking to take it slow and steady with the awards contender, which had a strong start in limited release last weekend with a $79,789 per-theater-average from four theaters. While the film’s reviews have not been particularly strong (its 65% on Rotten Tomatoes is one of the worst scores of any major contender this year), that strong start last weekend indicates that there might be enough audience interest in the story of Roger Ailes’ downfall at Fox News to overcome that. Granted, Bombshell is also the kind of the film that most mainstream audiences will not feel the need to rush out to before December 25, so a subdued opening weekend of $7 million seems likely, but expect the film have strong legs over the next couple weeks.
1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – $185 million (NEW)
2. Jumanji: The Next Level – $26 million (-56%)
3. Cats – $14 million (NEW)
4. Frozen II – $10.5 million (-45%)
5. Bombshell – $7 million (EXPANSION)
6. Knives Out – $5.3 million (-42%)
7. Richard Jewell – $2.4 million (-49%)
8. Ford v Ferrari – $2 million (-51%)
9. Black Christmas – $1.7 million (-60%)
10. Queen & Slim – $1.6 million (-55%)