Three films into Walt Disney Co.’s planned string of never-ending sequels and spin-offs, “Star Wars” remains in a box-office universe of its own.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opened to $220 million in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, according to studio estimates. That is the second-biggest box-office opening of all time, not counting inflation. The only one bigger was 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the return of the series to the big screen after a 10-year absence and the first released by Disney, which made $248 million in its domestic opening.
Overseas, “The Last Jedi” took in $230 million, compared with the $281 million international debut of “The Force Awakens.”
The $450 million global opening of “The Last Jedi” is the fifth-biggest ever. It would have been higher, but the new “Star Wars” sequel hasn’t opened yet in China, where it will start playing on Jan. 5.
The massive debut indicates that “Star Wars” remains a pop-culture phenomenon like nothing else, with “must-see” status among every demographic. Fanboys, adults and children all want to see a new “Star Wars” movie, particularly a sequel to the main ongoing story like “The Last Jedi,” both out of personal excitement and to be part of a global conversation.
In a year when other major franchises stumbled, like “Transformers,” “Cars” and “Justice League,” “Star Wars” is showing no signs of weakness.
That is stellar news for Disney, which paid $4 billion in 2011 to buy “Star Wars” owner Lucasfilm Ltd. The purchase is not only paying off for the company’s movie studio, but its consumer-products business that pumps out related toys and pajamas and its theme parks, where “Star Wars” lands are under construction in both Florida’s Walt Disney World and California’s Disneyland.
Other companies are benefiting too.
reported that “The Last Jedi” was its second-biggest opening ever, excluding China, with $40.6 million of box office at its digital and large-format screens.
It only helped that “The Last Jedi,” written and directed by
was overwhelmingly praised by critics. It earned the series’ highest score on review aggregation site Metacritic since the original “Star Wars” in 1977. Many praised it for taking more risks than “The Force Awakens,” with a story that was less similar to the original trilogy.
Audiences gave the movie an average score of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Domestic ticket sales dropped only 39% on Saturday compared with the total of Thursday night and Friday screenings. The equivalent number for “The Force Awakens” was 43%, a sign that buzz about the new movie may be even stronger.
Disney’s head of theatrical distribution, said that he had expected an opening weekend gross of about $203 million on Friday based on the early grosses, but that “walk-up” business, people who didn’t buy tickets in advance online, was surprisingly high.
“The film is set up for unbelievable word-of-mouth and repeat viewing,” said Mr. Hollis.
If so, it could eventually rival the nearly $2.1 billion global box-office total of “The Force Awakens,” the third-highest of all time behind “Avatar” and “Titanic.” Domestically, “The Force Awakens” holds the record for highest gross of all time with $936.7 million.
Last year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a spinoff with lower expectations, grossed $532.2 million domestically and over $1 billion globally.
In most foreign countries, “The Last Jedi” opened just a bit shy of “The Force Awakens,” as in the U.S. It actually exceeded the 2015 sequel in Japan, grossing $14.4 million compared with $10.2 million. But it fell short in the U.K., where “The Last Jedi” opened to $36.7 million and “The Force Awakens” made its debut at $50.7 million. Mr. Hollis said that was in part due to changes in currency valuations.
The only major country where “The Last Jedi” had a particularly unimpressive start was South Korea. It opened to just $5.1 million there, behind a local film. That market has been challenging for Disney to penetrate with the “Star Wars” saga, as has China, where few people are familiar with Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader, and “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” performed relatively poorly for a global blockbuster.
The only other movie to debut in wide release this weekend was “Ferdinand,” an animated family comedy based on the classic children’s book from 21st Century Fox Inc.’s Twentieth Century Fox. Counterprogramming against “Star Wars” didn’t work out well, as “Ferdinand” opened to a weak $13.3 million. That is the lowest opening of the 12 films made by Fox’s Blue Sky animation over the past 15 years.
Fox is hoping that despite its weak start, “Ferdinand” will play well over the next two weeks because many children will be out of school.
Disney on Thursday agreed to buy Fox assets including its movie studio, however, so in a sense the “Ferdinand” opening could be seen as a bit of bad news for it alongside the outstanding start for “The Last Jedi.”
Write to Ben Fritz at email@example.com
Appeared in the December 18, 2017, print edition as ‘‘Last Jedi’ Blasts Its Way to Stellar Opening.’