Could ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ miss out on a $200m opening?

Here comes the final blockbuster of the year, and decade, and what a film to round it off. ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, the final film of this current iteration of ‘Star Wars’ movies, delivers its blockbuster swansong with hopes to reach $200m by Sunday night. Whether it will or won’t depends on a number of factors, least of all ‘Cats’, whose appalling critical reception may hinder its chances of success. ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ hopes to remain competitive in the face of ‘Star Wars’, and Lionsgate’s ‘Bombshell’ aims to remain in the Oscar’s picture with its wide opening.

So, what’s opening this weekend?

A little franchise called ‘Star Wars’ drops their latest installment this weekend, maybe you’ve heard of it? The Disney behemoth drops the final film in the ‘Skywalker’ series after 9 films, 42 years, and $4.5bn grossed domestically (not to mention $9.2bn globally). Aptly titled ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, the film will see the return of ‘The Force Awakens’ director J. J. Abrams, as well as the beloved cast of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill and others.

The Force Awakens’ remains the biggest ‘Star Wars’ film of all time, after its pre-‘Infinity War’ (then ‘Endgame) opening weekend record of $248m preceded a $936.7m domestic finish – still the largest in U.S. history. It was followed by 2017’s ‘The Last Jedi’, the critically-acclaimed-yet-divisive sequel by Rian Johnson, which opened to a $220m on its way to $620.2m in the U.S.

Infact, only ‘Star Wars’ movies (Rogue One’ included) have opened to over $100m in December, guaranteeing a blockbuster start for ‘The Rise of Skywalker’. Standing in the film’s way of a near-$200m start however is its mixed reception – critics haven’t been best pleased with the film, with it currently sitting on just 58% on the Tomatometer. If this translates into audience apathy, then serious issues are in store.

Yes, we know it’s the final installment of the multi-decade franchise, and yes we know it’s the last we’ll see of Luke Skywalker and co, but as we’ve seen time and time again, that reception affects revenue.

It feels eerily similar to this summer’s ‘The Lion King’, which was seemingly a shoe-in for a $200m+ opening before the critic embargo lifted and it ended up earning $191.8m in its 1st 3 days. ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ may suffer the same fate, although a $195m opening sounds less like suffering, and more like the 8th largest domestic opening of all time.

It’s a little harder to predict the fortune of ‘Cats’, the musical based off of the 4th longest-running Broadway show ever. Directed by Tom Hooper (‘The Kings Speech’, ‘Les Misérables’, ‘The Danish Girl’) and starring literally everybody, this $95m production should open anywhere between ‘The Greatest Showman’ ($8.8m), and ‘Alvin & The Chipmunks 2’ ($48.9m) – the latter holding the crown for the biggest musical opening in December.

But it’s not about the size of the opening in December – it never is. If we learned anything from ‘The Greatest Showman’, is that the festive period can turn $9m flops into $174.3m smashes – even with ‘Showman’s RT rating of 56%. It’s simply about the legs. If audiences love it, critics don’t matter. It’s the caveat to our point above; audience reception affects revenue.

This means that, if ‘Cats’ plays its cards right, our forecasted $18m opening could end up hitting $150m domestically. Or, ‘Cats’ may end up being the biggest flop of the decade. A reasonable range of possibilities, there.  

Finally, Lionsgate’s award contender ‘Bombshell’ opens wide into 1,500 cinemas this weekend, after its impressive limited release 7 days ago saw it earn a $79.3k per-cinema average – the 5th best of the year so far. That’s where we expect the success to end however, with the film expected to earn just $5m from its 2nd weekend.

What else is on?

There was always the risk in Sony moving ‘Jumanji 2’ ahead of ‘Star Wars’, when 2 years ago ‘Jumanji’s success came as a result of its legs after its release a week later than ‘The Last Jedi’. This time around, the hope is that any substantial 2nd weekend drop will be offset by the sheer size of its $60m opening, and by Sunday night, the film will be well clear of the $100m domestic mark.

And substantial it will be: ‘Jumanji 2’ is in line to fall by nearly 60% to post a $26m weekend. Still, it’s not as bad as ‘Black Christmas’, which will disappear with just $1.5m (-64%), while ‘Richard Jewell’ will be hanging on with a $2.4m showing.

RankLast Week’s RankFilmSTUDIOBudgetJUMPCUT’s predictionWeekend dropWeek no.
1New!Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerDisney$195m1
21Jumanji: The Next LevelSony$125m$26m-56.1%2
42Frozen 2Disney$150m$10.3m-46.0%5
53Knives OutLionsgate$40m$5.3m-42.0%4
74Richard JewellWarner Bros$45m$2.4m-48.7%2
86Ford v. FerrariFox-Disney$98m$2m-51.0%6
98A Beautiful Day in the NeighborhoodSony$25m$2m-39.0%5
107Queen & SlimUniversal$17m+$1.9m-47.0%4

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