Box Office: STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER lands hard while CATS stinks up the litter box

Welcome to the Beat’s Weekend Box Office Recap!

2019 has been a year when many box office records have been set and broken, but the finale to the 42-year, 11(ish) film series that began with George Lucas‘ Star Wars in 1977 probably won’t be joining them, as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opened this weekend with an estimated $175.5 million. That has to be seen as a disappointment to the studio who set a new opening record earlier this year with another series finale, Avengers: Endgame, and even opened Jon Favreau‘s weakly-received The Lion King remake higher.

On paper, it certainly seemed like the return of JJ Abrams as a director, as well as the proper send-off for the late Carrie Fisher might help the movie build back some of the trust lost with 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That movie still opened with $220 million and did decently compared to other movies two years ago, despite eventually being overtaken for the #1 spot by Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle.

The Rise of Skywalker started off well enough with $40 million in Thursday previews, just a little below Last Jedi’s $45 million previews, and the Friday total of $90 million (including that $40 million in previews) seemed to point to a strong opening close to the $200 million mark after officially opening nationwide in 4,406 theaters. Apparently, the generally negative reaction to the movie and various aspects of how the story was handled ended up hurting its weekend business, since it fell pretty hard on Saturday and Disney estimated that decline to continue for Sunday.

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Following the movie’s premiere on Monday, the mixed reactions began pouring out, and they continued on Tuesday, leading to up to mixed reviews with just 57% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the first  time since 2008’s animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars where a “Star Wars” movie received a rotten rating, although it’s still better than The Phantom Menace‘s 53% rating in 1999. (Granted, many of the earlier movie’s reviews may have been posted in the 20 years since.) Even worse was the fan’s reaction which was captured in the movie’s “B+” CinemaScore, which might not sound bad, but it’s the only movie in the entire series other than The Clone Wars to not receive an “A” or “A-.” Yes, even the prequels received “A-” CinemaScores.

Maybe we can look at Rise of Skywalker‘s $175.5 million opening in a different light, as it is the third-biggest December opening, but not so great when you realize the two bigger openings were the two previous movies. At least it did better than Rogue One‘s $155 million opening, and that still grossed more than $500 million domestically.

Overseas, things weren’t looking as good for Rise of Skywalker when numbers from China proved to be lower than both the previous movies in the series. Even so, it managed to pull in $198 million internationally over the weekend with big showings in the UK ($26.8 million), Germany ($21.8 million) and other places. China’s $12 million is just another showing of how the Middle Kingdom seems more interested in local products as Rise of Skywalker opened in fifth place in the country.

There are plenty of other reasons why Rise of Skywalker might not have lived up to expectations, either as a finale to the series or at the box office. As far as the latter, wehave to bear in mind that it was released a week later than all three previous December “Star Wars” releases, and the weekend right before Christmas can always be a killer. Many people are either travelling or shopping or both, which almost always cuts into business but for most movies, that business will then pick up in the following two weeks with people off work and out of school. This could account for why the movie did more than half its weekend business on Thursday and Friday.

Either way, we’ll have to see whether those who liked the movie end up outweighing those who don’t and whether people go see it again. How Rise of Skywalker fares next weekend in the generally super-busy weekend after Christmas is going to be a big tell on whether it tops out at $500 or is able to surpass The Last Jedi‘s $620 million domestic or $1.3 billion worldwide, or whether this really becomes the end of the franchise, for real. (Lucasfilm already has three “Star Wars” movies on the release schedule, the first one for December 2022, but no details on who might write or direct or even star in said movie.)

Speaking of Jumanji, the sequel Jumanji: The Next Level took a pretty hard hit in its second weekend, dropping to #2 with $26.1 million, down a whopping 56%, which may mean that it won’t perform quite as well as the original. So far, it’s only grossed $101.9 million, and we’ll have to see if it’s able to pick up some business over the next few weeks with this week’s movies not living up to expectations. It added another $32.6 million internationally for $311.9 million globally.

Disney’s other holiday blockbuster, Frozen II, held up much better with $12.3 million in its fifth weekend for third place, down just 36% from last weekend. The animated hit has already grossed $386.5 million domestically, and there’s a good chance, it can push over the $400 million mark with the busy holiday break coming up. It was just behind Jumanji overeas but globally, it has already crossed the billion mark and is well into the profit zone.

There’s no way around it. We need to talk about Tom Hooper‘s musical Cats, released by Universal Pictures into 3,380 theaters for one of the worst showings of the year, especially bad when taking the movie’s $100 million production budget into consideration. Cats opened on Friday with absolutely horrible reviews , including my own.  It was probably hoped that the all-star cast, including Taylor SwiftIdris ElbaJames CordenRebel Wilson, Jason DeruloIan McKellen and Dame Judi Dench, would help bolster the film’s star, newcomer Francesca Hayward, and that the movie could find an audience of movie musical lovers. Instead, the movie ended up with just $6.5 million its opening weekend, less than $2,000 per theater. That, my friends, is a MAJOR BOMB, even considering the usually-slower pre-XMas weekend.

The people who actually ventured out into the cold to see Cats for themselves weren’t much nicer than the critics, giving the movie a “C+” CinemaScore. When you compare that to the “A” CinemaScore for Hugh Jackman‘s The Greatest Showman, it’s pretty obvious Cats will not be turning into a post-opening cult hit like that 2017 movie, which opened opposite The Last Jedi and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

As these things happen, I ended up overestimating how well both Rise of Skywalker and Cats might do this weekend, maybe because I thought that the fanbases for the franchises, the genres or even the stars might get more people into theaters. Nope. I was wrong.

In an added bit of irony, Knives Out, the ensemble comedy from The Last Jedi filmmaker Rian Johnson, held up well in its fourth weekend, despite losing almost 900 theaters to the sequel to his previous movie. Knives Out took fifth place with $6.1 million, down just 33% from last weekend despite losing all those theaters. It has grossed $89.6 million domestically and is looking good to cross the $100 million in North America over the holiday break.

The only other newish wide release was Lionsgate’s #MeToo drama Bombshell, about the Fox News sex scandal, which Lionsgate expanded into 1,480 theaters on Friday where it grossed just over $5 million or $3,429 per theater. That’s definitely a better showing than Catsand if Lionsgate chooses to, it can probably expand the Jay Roach-directed film into more theaters over the next few weeks to take advantage of awards nominations for its cast of Charlize TheronMargot Robbie and Nicole Kidman.

The rest of the top 10 had significant drops with Clint Eastwood‘s Richard Jewell doing the best of the other returning movies, taking seventh place with $2.6 million, down 45% from its opening weekend.

This Week’s Top 10: 

Rank Last Week Rank Movie Studio Weekend Gross % Change Total Gross
1 New Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Disney/Lucasfilm $175.5 million N/A $175.5 million
2 1 Jumanji: The Next Level Sony $26.2 million -56% $101.9 million
3 2 Frozen 2 Disney $12.3 million -36% $386.5 million
4 New Cats Universal $6.5 million N/A $6.5 million
5 3 Knives Out Lionsgate $6.1 million -33% $89.6 million
6 19 Bombshell Lionsgate $5.1 million -38% $5.5 million
7 4 Richard Jewell Warner Bros. $2.6 million -45% $9.5 million
8 7 Queen and Slim Universal $1.9 million -48% $36.6 million
9 5 Black Christmas Universal $1.8 million -58% $7.2 million
10 6 Ford v. Ferrari 20th Century Fox $1.8 million  -56% $102 million

Last year, the top 10 amassed $163.3 million, and because that’s still  lessthan what Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker made this weekend, we can at least say that the latest “Star Wars” helped boost this weekend over last year.  The big release last December was James Wan‘s Aquaman, which opened with $67.5 million, while Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns opened lightly with just $23.5 million, followed by the “Transformers” spin-off/prequel Bumblebee with just $21.6 million. Opening in seventh place was J-Lo‘s Second Act (STXfilms) with $6.5 million, but that did much better than Robert Zemeckis‘ Welcome to Marwen, another CGI movie from Universal that bombed with  $2.4 million opening.

Check back on Tuesday for next week’s Box Office Preview, which will talk about the Xmas releases, including the animated Spies in Disguise, Greta Gerwig‘s Little Women and more.

1 COMMENT

  1. From what I’ve read about Rise of Skywalker, it deserves to bomb. It reportedly negates much of Last Jedi, and reduces Kelly Marie Tran (Rose) to a bit part, in an apparent effort to placate the most toxic fanboys.

    I still plan to see it, but it will probably be the last SW movie I’ll see.

    Congrats to Rian Johnson on the success of Knives Out!

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