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‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Jolts Box Office With $175 Million Opening

”Star Wars“ holds the top four all-time December openings, while ”Cats“ goes belly up

Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” had a steeper than expected Friday-to-Saturday drop at the box office, taking in $47.5 million from 4,430 screens, resulting in industry estimates to be revised down to an opening weekend of $175.5 million.

Globally, the film has a launch of $373.5 million with $198 million grossed overseas, including $26.8 million in the U.K.

It’s strange to think that an opening weekend that ranks as the third highest of 2019 and the third highest ever in December would be perceived by some as underperforming, but that speaks to the sky-high expectations that this Disney-made “Star Wars” trilogy has created for itself. In 2016, “The Force Awakens” posted a then-record $247 million opening and two years later, “The Last Jedi” took in a $220 million start. Regardless of those $200 million-plus expectations, “The Rise of Skywalker” is still meeting tracker projections, which were set at $175-205 million. Disney was more conservative, putting their tracking at $160 million.

After critics gave Rotten Tomatoes scores of over 90% to the last two installments, they have been very tepid on “Rise of Skywalker” with a 57% score. Whether audiences agree depends on what metric you check. CinemaScore audience polls gave the film a B+, making “Rise” the first “Star Wars” film aside from the ill-fated “Clone Wars” animated film to not receive an A or A-. However, Postrak scores were still strong with a 4/5 and 70% “definite recommend,” while the verified Rotten Tomatoes audience score stands at 86%.

The true impact of this trilogy capper’s word of mouth will be seen in the weeks to come. “Rise of Skywalker” is coming out later than “Force Awakens” or “Last Jedi,” meaning there’s still plenty of casual moviegoers that are waiting to see the film until Christmas Day or next weekend, when more people are on holiday.

While reviews have knocked the film’s plot and its haphazard attempts to inject Emperor Palpatine back into the story, critics have acknowledged that “Rise” has plenty of popcorn spectacle. For many moviegoers, that could still be enough to push the film to a $500-$600 million domestic run.

The other big holiday release of the weekend, Universal’s “Cats,” has failed to clear any bar. Initially projected to open in the mid-teens against a reported $95 million budget, “Cats” is instead bombing at the box office with a $6.5 million opening from 3,380 screens.

The hopes for this Tom Hooper musical were that it would withstand a weak opening against “Star Wars” and that strong word of mouth would allow it to leg out like “The Greatest Showman,” which opened to less than $10 million and went on to gross $174 million in North America.

But while “The Greatest Showman” earned an A on CinemaScore, audiences and critics alike are rejecting “Cats” with a 19% Rotten Tomatoes score and a C+ on CinemaScore. While some on Twitter are calling the film a future “so bad it’s good” cult classic, reviews calling it a “collective hallucination” and comparing it to the face-melting Ark of the Covenant from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” will repel more potential moviegoers than draw in the fascinated musical lovers that might give this film future “Rocky Horror” status.

On a wider scope, “Cats” marks the second straight year that Universal has capped off a successful year on a bitter note, following a 2018 in which the studio released the Peter Jackson-produced flop “Mortal Engines.” The good news for the studio is that a rebound might be near. It is releasing the acclaimed World War I film “1917” in select cities on Christmas Day before releasing it in January to coincide with Oscar nominations.

Also opening wide this weekend after a week running in Los Angeles and New York is Lionsgate’s “Bombshell,” which is also performing below box office expectations with a $5 million opening. The Golden Globe-nominated film about Roger Ailes’ downfall was projected for a $9-10 million opening.

Between sharing the theater with crowd-pleasers and the likely lack of desire among many moviegoers to spend the holidays watching a film about a real life sexual harassment scandal, this result is not unexpected. Nor is it necessarily a bad sign for “Bombshell,” as the film can still leg out into January, especially if lead star Charlize Theron turns her Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Megyn Kelly into a win or adds a Best Actress Oscar nomination to it.

“Bombshell” opened in sixth on the box office charts, placing below fellow Lionsgate release “Knives Out.” The Rian Johnson mystery film now has a total of $89 million after making $6.2 million in its fourth weekend.

The other two big holdovers in the Top 5, Disney’s “Frozen II” and Sony’s “Jumanji: The Next Level,” held on well. “Jumanji” took in $26.1 million in its second weekend, keeping the drop from its $59.2 million opening to a solid 56% and bringing its domestic total to $101 million. “Frozen II,” which passed $1 billion last weekend, is drawing closer to the global and domestic benchmarks its 2013 predecessor set. The sequel took in $12.3 million domestically and $43.9 million worldwide in its fifth weekend, bringing it to $386 million domestic and $1.1 billion worldwide.