The Force was–wait for it–strong at the box office this weekend, even if it wasn’t quite as forceful as many had been expecting.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opened this weekend to $175 million, The Numbers is reporting. That was enough to give it the third-biggest December opening weekend ever, but was also respectively lower than the openings for 2015’s The Force Awakens ($249 million) and 2017’s The Last Jedi ($220 million). It was also a bit short of where tracking had it, with projections ranging from a debut upwards of $200 million to far more ludicrous figures like $300 million.
First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way: The Rise of Skywalker had a terrific opening weekend, with numbers which rival studios would happily shoot Greedo first for. Having said that, The Rise of Skywalker still opened to more than $70 million less than The Force Awakens did, and there could be a number of reasons for that.
Before we get into the one that people are most likely to jump onto–fan division over The Last Jedi–let’s take into account that Disney made the rather curious decision to release Skywalker only five days before Christmas. This meant that many people were busy getting ready for the holiday and not going to the movie theater. By comparison, Disney sent The Force Awakens to theaters a whole week before Christmas and The Last Jedi a full ten days. This alone made reaching the heights of those films over opening weekend a very difficult reach.
Still, The Last Jedi did most likely play some sort of a role here. While the level of division among fans regarding it has been blown out of proportion by now, it did help lower the momentum of anticipation for the “final” Star Wars film to a certain extent, and it didn’t help that Jedi director Rian Johnson took to Twitter again to lash out as his critics over the weekend, reigniting the feud which has been going on for the last two years. Disney brought J.J. Abrams aboard to helm The Rise of Skywalker, resulting in a more “traditional” Star Wars film of the same cloth as The Force Awakens. Strangely enough, critics were far kinder to The Last Jedi than they were to The Rise of Skywalker, giving the latter the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of the franchise since Disney took it over.
But again, as we said before, Skywalker is by no stretch “in trouble,” but it will be interesting to find out where holiday break takes it. Disney chose to have Star Wars absolutely dominate screens this weekend, making the controversial decision to have Frozen II removed from larger auditoriums in order to give Skywalker more potential seats. That’s odd considering it’s Disney basically taking money from themselves, as the original Frozen made more than $175 million over the Christmas holidays back in 2013. Almost as curious is that Disney is releasing Blue Sky’s Spies in Disguise on Christmas Day, but will also keep it restricted to smaller venues. In other words, Disney wants for Star Wars to be as big as they can manage, even if it means some of their other films make less money as a result.
Will it be enough for Star Wars to surpass the theatrical gross of The Last Jedi? That’s hard to say. In terms of comparisons, going back to the prequel trilogy isn’t entirely fair. Some will claim that negative fan reaction resulted in Attack of the Clones making respectively less than The Phantom Menace did, but those movies came from a very different era in terms of how the box office worked, as sequels very rarely matched the takes of their predecessors. As things stand now, The Rise of Skywalker has a puzzling “B+” CinemaScore, which is actually lower than the “A-” Jedi received. Does this mean word-of-mouth could hurt the movie? Unlikely, as the people who want to go to this movie will do so regardless of what their friends tell them about it. But it could have an impact on repeat business, which was great on The Force Awakens but not so hot for the Star Wars movies which followed (as an aside, The Force Awakens remains the biggest movie of all time in terms of domestic box office).
With Star Wars opening, it didn’t leave much room for newcomers, as Cats found out the hard way with a pretty dismal $6 million premiere. This was enough to get Universal to make the completely unexpected announcement that they will be “updating the visual effects” of the movie and sending it to all theaters as soon as possible, which means that if you want to watch the “original” theatrical version of Cats, you’d better do so now. Cats used a mix of practical make-up and special effects to bring its characters to life, a technique similar to one used for 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are. The internet’s reaction to the film’s trailers was one of outspoken horror, but then again, Cats was a pretty weird Broadway play to begin with, so it makes sense that the movie adaption would also be pretty surreal. Cats cost a reported $100 million to make.
Also competing against Cats was the aforementioned Frozen II, which is now only $15 million away from beating the stateside $400 million gross of the original. Having surpassed the $1 billion mark worldwide last weekend, it is almost certainly going to take Frozen’s place as the biggest animated movie of all time at the rate it is going (again, as we’ve said in previous reports here, we’re not counting the new Lion King). Elsa’s reign has been mighty indeed.
Next week, Spies in Disguise opens. It is notably Blue Sky’s first animated feature since Disney acquired them as part of their merger with 20th Century Fox.
Final figures are due tomorrow.