"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," the final film in the epic Skywalker saga of the "Star Wars" franchise, made $40 million at the box office in Thursday night previews beginning at 6 p.m. It opens on over 4,300 screens this weekend.
Disney is projecting "The Rise of Skywalker" to earn in the $160 million range over the weekend, with independent trackers officially saying it should open between $175-205 million. In its sights are both of the previous "Star Wars" films in this latest trilogy, including 2015's "The Force Awakens" and 2017's "The Last Jedi," both of which are in the Top 5 for all time opening weekends.
"The Force Awakens" made $57 million in its preview showings ahead of a $248 million opening, and "The Last Jedi" started with $45 million and opened to $220 million. $40 million may be below the other two entries in the trilogy, but it's still good enough for the fifth-highest preview opening ever, just ahead of "Avengers: Infinity War," which made $39 million and went on to gross $258 million over its three-day opening. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," the other December opening for a "Star Wars" film, made $29 million in its Thursday previews and went on to a $155 million opening, which now makes it the 11th highest preview ever.
It's worth noting that "The Rise of Skywalker" also included special fan event preview screenings that began at 5 p.m. from 450 theaters across the country, and 21 theaters ran a marathon of all 9 "Star Wars" films in a marathon building up to "The Rise of Skywalker."
J.J. Abrams returns to direct "The Rise of Skywalker" after Rian Johnson directed "The Last Jedi." Critics were split on the film, saddling it with just a 58% score on Rotten Tomatoes, despite an 85% verified audience score.
"The Rise of Skywalker" follows Rey and the other surviving members of the Resistance as they fight to bring down the imperialistic First Order and bring peace to the galaxy. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Kelly Marie Tran are back for the sequel, as well as fan favorites such as Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Carrie Fisher in a posthumous appearance as Princess Leia, and Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine.
Also opening this weekend in wide release is "Cats," a live-action, computer-generated film based on the long-running Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It brought in $550,000 in previews at the Thursday box office from 2,500 screens. It opens at 3,380 theaters this weekend. Universal is projecting "Cats" for an opening in the mid-teens as it hopes to provide counter-programming to "Star Wars."
Tom Hooper directs the movie musical that stars Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Heyward in her debut film role alongside James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift and Rebel Wilson. It has a 20% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Lionsgate's "Bombshell" also expands today after a limited release run in New York and LA, and the film grossed $335,000 from approximately 1,100 screens ahead of playing on 1,480 North American locations this weekend. The Fox News drama about the downfall of Roger Ailes stars Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow and is directed by Jay Roach.