Jedi Knights and singing felines made for a wild, curious ride at the pre-Christmas box office.
Though coming in notably behind the last two films in the trilogy, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker easily banished the competition to a galaxy far, far away with a huge weekend launch of $175.5 million at the North American box office and $373.5 million globally.
Domestically, the movie scored the third-biggest December debut of all time behind Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 ($248 million) and Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 2017 ($220 million).
Because the two earlier pics opened further away from Christmas, box office analysts are unanimous in saying that the true test for Rise of Skywalker will be its performance once presents are unwrapped on Dec. 25 and moviegoers are free to return to leisure activities after rushing to finish their shopping and attend holiday parties.
Overseas, the latest Star Wars installment opened to $198 million from 52 territories, trailing the last two movies in like-for-like markets. While it opened No. 1 in nearly every country, Rise of Skywalker sputtered in China with $12.1 million. Europe topped all regions with $122 million, led by the U.K. ($26.8 million) and followed by Germany ($21.8 million) and France ($15.2 million). In Japan, the film scored the No. 3 opening of the year for a Western film with $14.6 million). Generally speaking, sci-fi is a challenged genre in Latin America and parts of Asia.
Potential challenges facing Rise of Skywalker include decidedly mixed reviews and a B+ CinemaScore. Also, it’s the first Star Wars pic made by Lucasfilm and Disney not to earn an A or A- from audiences. Exit scores on PostTrak are more promising.
Heading into the weekend, Rise of Skywalker was tracking to bow to $170 million domestically. More bullish industry observers believed it could approach $190 million to $200 million.
The film — which cost Disney and Lucasfilm as much as $300 million to produce before marketing — also marked the third-biggest opening of 2019 to date behind fellow Disney releases Avengers: Endgame ($357.1 million) and The Lion King ($191.7 million). Rise of Skywalker caps off a historic year for the Disney empire, which has amassed nearly $12 billion in global ticket sales, including Fox titles.
Meanwhile, Tom Hooper’s Christmas event movie Cats was badly scratched in its debut with $6.5 million after landing a C+ CinemaScore and getting savaged by critics. The adaptation of the hit stage musical had been projected to earn double that in its debut. And, in an unheard of move for a movie already in release, the studio has sent thousands of theaters an updated print with “improved visual effects.”
Internationally, Cats opened in the U.K. — where Hooper and many of the other stars are from — to a solid $4.4 million.
From Universal and Working Title, the $100 million PG-rated pic hopes to make up ground in the coming days as families become available. (Two years ago, The Greatest Showman bowed to $8.8 million over Christmas on its way to grossing $174.3 million domestically.)
Cats came in No. 4 behind the stalwart holdovers Jumanji: The Next Level and Frozen 2.
Sony’s Jumanji 2 grossed a sturdy $26.1 million in its sophomore outing to pass the $100 million threshold domestically (it finished Sunday with $101.9 million) and $312 million globally.
Frozen 2 took in $12.3 million domestically and another $31.6 million overseas for a global cume of $1.103 billion.
Lionsgate’s Bombshell came in slightly behind expectations in its nationwide expansion with $5.1 million in North America. The Fox News drama charted at No. 6 behind fellow Lionsgate release Knives Out, which grossed $6.1 million in its fourth weekend for a global tally of $185.6 million.
Of the three new movies, Bombshell — an awards contender — boasts the best Rotten Tomatoes score (65 percent), followed by 57 percent for Star Wars and a mere 19 percent for Cats.
Elsewhere on the top 10 chart, Fox and Disney’s Ford v Ferrari zoomed past the $100 million mark domestically for a worldwide haul of $193 million to date.