‘Skywalker’ Posts Strong First Two Days Despite Lukewarm Reviews

(Bloomberg) -- Walt Disney Co.’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” defied critics out of the gate, pulling in a strong $90 million on Thursday and Friday despite tepid reviews.

Headed into the weekend “Skywalker,” which officially debuted on Friday, was projected to take in $160 million to $190 million in its first three days, according to Boxoffice Pro, but may now be on a track to pull in more.

Forecasts were as high as $225 million earlier in the week, before a rush of tepid reviews from critics. On the Hollywood Stock Exchange, the forecast declined about 11% to $207.9 million.

Predicting the box-office performance of films is notoriously tricky. And it’s risky to bet against Disney’s marketing muscle: The world’s largest entertainment company has been promoting the release for months. Still, the opening seems likely to fall short of the past two movies in the current trilogy: “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.”

‘Skywalker’ Posts Strong First Two Days Despite Lukewarm Reviews

Disney said on Friday that “The Rise of Skywalker” took in $40 million in Thursday night preview screenings domestically, the fifth best performance in industry history. “The Force Awakens” generated $57 million in previews four years ago, while “The Last Jedi” scored $45 million. The new film also collected $59.1 million overseas.

Weekend estimates were initially higher based on early audience reaction. Attendees at the premiere in Los Angeles on Monday gushed about the film on social media, and presales on ticketing sites have been strong. Fandango, for example, said purchases were pacing similar to 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” which delivered $220 million in its opening weekend.

The film looks likely to be the first in the Star Wars franchise not to score an “A” from CinemaScore, which polls theater goers. Through Saturday morning “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” was pulling a B+. That slight shortfall could result in some fans not returning for second or third screenings.

Forecasts had been slipping after the film fared poorly with critics, scoring just 58% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that aggregates reviews. Anything below 60% is considered “rotten.” The general public was far kinder, rating it 85% fresh on the same site.

Skywalker’ Reaps Worst Reviews Since ‘Phantom Menace’

Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro, said he thinks many of the ticket presales may be for screenings after Sunday, during the Christmas holiday week, and thus won’t count in the opening-weekend results.

Fan Dismay

In contrast, “The Last Jedi” was a hit with critics. But it also irked some fans, who didn’t feel like the storylines and character development stayed true to the Star Wars ethos.

“This week’s mixed reviews have emphasized the likelihood that casual fans may be waiting to hear word of mouth from their own peers before deciding to see the film,” Robbins said.

Disney, which typically forecasts conservatively, said earlier in the week that it was looking at an opening weekend of $160 million or more. It then increased that estimate to $175 million or more. Exhibitor Relations Co., another forecaster, has kept its estimate steady at $191 million. Box Office Mojo said on Thursday that it expects $215 million.

“The Rise of Skywalker,” caps what has been a momentous year for Disney and the Star Wars brand. The film still looks to be the seventh released by Disney in 2019 that will exceed $1 billion in total ticket sales. That’s an unprecedented accomplishment for the company, which has already topped $10 billion in total box office revenue worldwide.

Theme Parks

Disney also opened two Star Wars-themed lands at its resorts in Anaheim, California, and Orlando, Florida, this year. And it’s built a following for “The Mandalorian,” a Star Wars TV series that serves as the centerpiece of the new Disney+ streaming service.

Disney has worked to get younger people interested in the Star Wars brand. Last week, the company offered a sneak peek at the new film within the wildly popular video game Fortnite.

It’s also relying on Star Wars movie marathons to build excitement, and fans lined up for days on Hollywood Boulevard waiting to see the film.

The first Star Wars picture, in 1977, was a global phenomenon. Each of the films in that trilogy, and in a second one in the early 2000s, ended up producing higher tickets sales in its opening weekend than its predecessor, according to the Numbers website.

“The Force Awakens,” the first Disney produced film in the series, set box-office records in 2015. But “The Last Jedi” made less money. And a stand-alone film based on the Han Solo character bombed last year.

Star Wars aside, Disney has enjoyed its best year ever at the box office, fueled by megahits such as “Avengers: Endgame” and “The Lion King.” The rest of the industry hasn’t been so fortunate. Overall box-office revenue is down 5.4% from 2018, when ticket sales generated a record $11.9 billion domestically.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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