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Welcome back to the Beat’s weekly Box Office Preview!

No intro this week. Let’s get right to it…

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (Lucasfilm/Disney)

Rise of Skywalker
Lucasfilm/Disney

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Keri Russell, Domhnall Gleeson, Ian McDiarmid, Lupita Ynong’o, Andy Serkis, Billy Dee Williams, Kelly Marie Tran, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo
Directed By: J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek, Star Trek into Darkness, Mission: Impossible 3, Super 8)
MPAA Rating: PG-13

As we edge closer to the December holiday break, one of the longest-running and most successful franchises in movie history is back for what’s being declared as the finale of the original “nonology” that George Lucas began way back in 1977 with the very first Star Wars, a movie that (along with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws) paved the way for the box office blockbusters we have today.

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Star Wars really changed the look and feel of Hollywood movies, particularly science fiction, as it created lovable characters and made household names of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Chewbacca and some of the actors who portrayed them, particularly Harrison Ford.  Lucas release two more installments over the next six years, each directed by a different director, and then the franchise took a long break while continuing in novels, comic books, etc.

Lucas came back in the late ‘90s for a prequel trilogy focusing on the origins of Darth Vader aka Luke’s father “Ani” Skywalker, as played by Danny Lloyd and Hayden Christiansen, neither of whom are doing much these days. Other actors in that trilogy like Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor mostly went on to bigger and better things.

Anyway, flash forward to 2012 and the Walt Disney Company outright bought Lucasfilm and planned a series of movies to continue the series with filmmaker J.J. Abrams, best known for his television work as well as his reimagining of Star Trek into a successful movie franchise of its own. 2015’s The Force Awakens set a new domestic opening record with $250 million, and it’s still the highest-grossing movie domestically, achieving an astounding $936.7 million domestic gross which even this year’s blockbuster Avengers: Endgame couldn’t best.

Looper and Knives Out director Rian Johnson took over the directorial reins for 2017’s The Last Jedi, and that opened slightly lower but still in the top 10 all-time with $620.2 million. More on that below. Abrams is back for “Episode IX,” which will wrap-up his trilogy but also the story began by Lucas all the way back in 1977 with “Episode IV” (and this confusion doesn’t even involve time travel).

Let’s look at some numbers…

Star Wars Movies

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (May 19, 1999)
Opening Weekend: $64.8 million; Domestic Total: $474.5 million 

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (May 16, 2002)
Opening Weekend: $80 million; Domestic Total: $310.7 million

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (May 19, 2005)
Opening Weekend: $108.4 million; Domestic Total: $380.3 million 

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Dec. 18, 2015)
Opening Weekend: $248 million; Domestic Total: $936.6 million 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec. 16, 2016)
Opening Weekend:  $155 million; Domestic Total: $532.2 million 

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Dec. 15, 2017)
Opening Weekend: $220 million; Domestic Total: $620.2 million 

Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25, 2018)
Opening Weekend: $84.4 million; Domestic Total: $213.8 million

Not a lot to say about the above numbers except for a couple obvious things, such as the decision by Disney to switch the release of the movies to December, and then releasing three movies in back-to-back years, which may have contributed to the burnout that hurt the Solo prequel. In days of yore i.e. the ‘80s, having three or four years between movies did help build excitement. The seventeen-year gap before The Phantom Menace helped incredibly, as did the ten years between Revenge of the Sith and Abrams’ first movie.

We should look at what Rise of Skywalker brings to the mix, including the desire to see Carrie Fisher on screen one last time, something that will certainly get fans excited even if the performance was something cut together from scenes she did for The Force Awakens. Most of the characters from the last movie are back, and the legendary Billy Dee Williams also returns as Lando Calrissian. They’re joined by recent Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant and J.J. Abrams also brings back his “Felicity” star Keri Russell, who has been a regular part of his TV and film work over the years.

The Blurgg in the room is the effect the most recent movies, The Last Jedi and Solo, and the less-than-favorable reaction they got, and how much of an effect, if any, this might have on Abrams’ finale. Although some fans didn’t like what Johnson did with The Last Jedi, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be back for the finale with Abrams back on board, especially with the promise of it ending 42 years of storytelling… until the next movie is announced for that slot in 2021.

The movie premiered on Monday night and most other critics got to see it on Tuesday with reviews for the movie having filtered out last night after 3AM. With 61% on Rotten Tomatoes, those reviews seem mixed at best – The Last Jedi still ended up 91% Fresh when all was said and done – so that isn’t great for the movie’s legs if even people who generally rave about “Star Wars” movies couldn’t rave about the finale.  (You can see what The Beat’s Entertainment Editor Hannah Lodge thought of the movie HERE, with varying degrees of spoilers. WTG, Hannah!)

It’s often tough to predict big event movies like “Star Wars,” because you know they’ll do very well as the fans will be rushing out to see them, but it’s a little tougher with movies that are likely to open over the $200 million mark, which is still a rarity.

The Rise of Skywalker should be good for a $200 million plus opening, although maybe since it’s opening so close to Christmas Day, some might wait until the holiday break to see it with family members. Movies that open so close to Christmas Day often have weaker openings than expected, and that might also keep the movie from any effort at besting Avengers: Endgame’s opening record.

That being the case, I think Rise of Skywalker might not open as big as The Last Jedi‘s $220 million opening, but if Abrams manages to stick the landing – which seems dubious based on those early reviews – it should do well enough over the next couple weeks to make $650 million to $700 or more, so not as much as The Force Awakens but more than The Last Jedi. Anything less than $600 million will be deemed a disaster and a need for some tough decisions in proceeding with the franchise. (Hint: Baby Yoda animated movie!!!)


CATS (Universal Studios)

Cats
Universal Pictures

Cast: Francesca Howard, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Taylor Swift, Ray Winstone, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Laurent Bourgeois
Directed By: Tom Hooper (Les Miserables, The King’s Speech, The Danish GirlThe Damned United)
MPAA Rating: PG

This is where things start to get interesting, as we have a star-studded musical movie directed by an Oscar-winning filmmaker, whose previous musical did quite well with a cast that includes Oscar winners, Emmy winners, Grammy winners, Golden Globe winners, Tony winners and probably a few MTV Award winners as well. Yes, folks, it is officially “EGOT: The Musical.” No, not really. It’s Cats. The much-maligned Broadway musical hit is coming to the big screen, and yeah, there have been a lot of feels about it even before anyone has seen it.

Catsis directed by Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar for his second film The King’s Speech, then followed that with a movie version of another popular Broadway musical, Les Miserable, which won Anne Hathaway her first Oscar. He next directed The Danish Girl, which was also in the Oscar conversation with Alicia Vikander winning an Oscar, so that’s three movies in a row that won someone in the cast an Oscar. I guess every streak is meant to be broken.

Although the movie stars Francesca Hayward, a ballet dancer from the Royal Ballet, Hooper has filled the cast with quite a line-up that includes Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench and Rebel Wilson, all playing cats. Although all of the actors have their fans, it’s just as much about the stars from music and Broadway also filling out the cast, including James Corden,Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudsonand Jason Derulo. Hudson already won an Oscar for her earliest movie role in Bill Condon’s Dreamgirls, and she gets to sing the most known song “Memories” in Cats.

Hooper’s Les Miserables opened on Christmas Day proper (a Tuesday) and made $66.7 million in its first five days on the road to $149 million total, and that’s certainly a good goal for Universal in their latest teaming with Hooper. A better comparison for Cats might be the 2017 Hugh Jackman musical The Greatest Showman about P.T. Barnum, which opened on this same weekend two years ago to only $8.8 million, but ended up grossing $174.3 million i.e. more than Les Miserablesover the holidays as it found its fans with a popular soundtrack. That also was kept away from critics and early awards voting groups ala Cats, although it ended up proving to be a hit with audiences, which is all that matters.

Universal showed most film critics the movie on Tuesday with reviews embargoed until after this column runs, so while I might have an opinion of Cats or how other critics might feel about it, I can’t tell you. Sorry. It’s kind of a shame, since the reactions to the first trailer for the movie have been so bad, and Universal hasn’t done very much to change minds in the months since then. The early reactions from the Monday premiere seemed somewhat confused. Maybe Universal has a game plan, but coming off two fall bombs in Last Christmas (a terrific film) and last week’s Black Christmas (not so terrific), the studio could really use a hit.

There’s definitely a curiosity factor to Cats – get it? Cats?… curiosity?…  Bad joke aside, it’s definitely true that a lot of people are wondering if this movie can possibly be any good or if it’s really going to be as bad as it looks. Some might go see it even if the critics destroy it, maybe because they’re familiar (or maybe even LIKE?) the original musical, but it will probably be more for older audiences than younger ones even with the draw of Swift for younger women. One advantage the movie has over other options is that it’s rated PG, so some younger kids might want to see it and maybe their parents won’t mind, even if there are other options hitting theaters on Christmas.

Cats probably isn’t going to open that big but more due to its release weekend and trying to compete for screens with Rise of Skywalker(a losing battle, for sure). Even if Cats only makes somewhere in the mid-teens this weekend, that shouldn’t be too worrisome if musical fans get into it as much as The Greatest Showman (or the actual Broadway musical), and it does better long-term business over the holiday break. I think even with an opening in the teens, Catscould end up amassing $80 million or even more even if it’s not in the Oscar race ala Les Miserables.

My Review of Cats 


BOMBSHELL (Lionsgate)

Bombshell
Lionsgate

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Rob Delaney, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass, Stephen Root, Robin Weigert
Directed By: Jay Roach (Trumbo, The Campaign, Meet the Parents, all three Austin Powers movies, Game Change)
MPAA Rating: R

Expanding nationwide after a limited release this past weekend is the Jay Roach movie about the Fox News sex scandal against the late Roger Aisles, which has already been covered in a documentary as well as a Showtime mini-series but still finds a way to tell the story in its own way.

Written by Charles Randolph, the Oscar-winning writer of The Big Short, the movie has gotten quite a bit of awards attention for its depiction of the scandal but also due to its depiction of Fox News personalities like Megyn Kelly, as played by Charlize Theron and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), but also includes the popular Margot Robbie as a character built from a number of blond Fox reporters. Aisles himself is played by John Lithgow as a good indication of the quality of make-up on the film, similar to last year’s Vice. The cast also includes Allison Janney, who won an Oscar for her performance opposite Robbie in I, Tonya a few years back, Kate McKinnon, and many, many more.

It’s hard to determine how much the movie will be a draw from the cast. Theron’s last movie, the comedy Long Shotwith Seth Rogen, only made $30 million earlier this year, and her 2018 movies, Tully and Gringo, made less than $10 million. In fact, other than Theron’s turn in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, her last hit was George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, and that only made $150 million, thought it was critically well-received.

Robbie, on the other hand, is coming off her popular turn as Sharon Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood over the summer, and she returns as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey in February. She’s clearly more of a draw for younger women that might be interested in the news-worthy story.  Kidman’s career, by comparison, is all over the place with appearances in blockbusters like Aquaman, well-received films like Destroyerthat make no money, and roles in movies like The Goldfinch, which few will even remember that it was released a few months back. But like Theron, Kidman has an Oscar and is fairly well respected among older moviegoers, who might have to choose between this and Cats this week.

Roach has won four Emmys for his politically-tinged HBO movies Game Changeand Recount, which are definitely more in the vein of Bombshellthan some of his other comedy hits, including Meet the Parentsand the “Austin Powers” movies. His involvement with the project is definitely taking a backseat to the work of the cast, which received four SAG nominations last week, and Randolph’s script, which could also be on the Oscar race.

This past weekend, Bombshell platformed in New York and L.A. with a decent $75,000 per theater average, which is a pretty good start, although movies like this are likely to do better in New York and Los Angeles anyway. Its expanding nationwide in a pre-Xmas weekend when very few movies do very big business, but it’s also trying to act as counter-programming for an audience that might have just as much curiosity in seeing Cats.

Because of this, I think we’ll see Bombshell making less than $10 million this weekend, but it’s a solid enough conversation-starter and awards movie that people could still be seeing it in January, so it probably could make $60 million plus when all’s said and done.


This Week’s Box Office Predictions:

Expect a lot of the returning movies that have been around for a few weeks to lose theaters this weekend to the dominant “Star Wars” movie, and the drop-offs from last weekend will be bigger than usual. Even more movies will open and expand on Christmas Day to take over those theaters, but some of the stronger movies should continue to do well through January.

  1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Lucasfilm/Disney) – $205.2 million N/A
  2. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) – $26.5 million -55%
  3. Cats (Universal) – $14.5 million N/A
  4. Frozen II (Disney) – $10 million -47%
  5. Bombshell (Lionsgate) – $6 million +2,271% (down $1.3 million)*
  6. Knives Out (Lionsgate) – $4.4 million -52% (down .3 million)
  7. Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.) – $2.5 million -48%
  8. Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox) – $1.8 million -52% (down .2 million)
  9. Queen and Slim (Universal) – $1.7 million -49% (down .1 million)
  10. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony/Tristar) – $1.6 million -51% (down .3 million)

    *I’m going to hold the line on my Star Wars and Cats predictions, but other things I”m going to have to change due to actual theater counts aka less for Bombshell and far bigger theater losses for most of the returning movies.

    Not much in terms of limited releases this week, although there’s the Bollywood release Dabangg 3, the Chinese film Only Cloud Knows, and Amazon will give the Brazilian Oscar entry Invisible Lifea limited release this weekend, as well.


Next week’s Box Office Preview will come a day early on Christmas Eve morning, December 24, since we’ll have a couple new wide releases opening on Christmas Day, including Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women and the Fox/Disney animated film Spies in Disguise.  But that will be it for 2019!

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