For a third year in a row, Disney is rejuvenating the year-end holiday box office with a Star Wars movie. This time it’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which is poised to clear between $424 million-$440 million worldwide by the end of its first frame. In the U.S. and Canada, industry projections have had The Last Jedi around $200M for quite some time, and it will be playing in more theaters than last year’s 4,157 for the franchise’s first spinoff Rogue One.
After a sluggish summer, the worst in 11 years, stateside exhibitors couldn’t be happier with the presence of Last Jedi. Last year, even though Rogue One did 43% less business than Force Awakens at $532.1M, that pic spurred a $1.07 billion overall theatrical marketplace for the period of December 16-January 2; the year before with Force Awakens, the holiday frame also cleared $1 billion. So even if Last Jedi falls below this lofty round figure stateside tracking has been spotting, say as low as $185M, it’s still not the end of the world for exhibition or moviegoing.
Previews in North America begin Thursday night at 7 PM, with fan and marathon events in 1,300-plus locations featuring an early start for The Last Jedi at 6 PM. The largest Thursday night preview gross belongs to Star Wars: The Force Awakens with $57M; just a few other films have broken $30M in previews including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Dark Knight Rises, and three of the Twilight films. Rogue One posted $29M in previews last year.
Industry sources are pegging The Last Jedi‘s overseas opening between a conservative $224M to a more reasonable $240M. Some see it going higher, hitting $250M-plus. There are those who caution that while pre-sales are off the charts, they are not as big as Force Awakens, which had more pent-up anticipation. Other codicils include the unpredictable nature of the pre-holiday box office as well as tough weather conditions this week in Europe and the northeast U.S.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi begins its international rollout Wednesday with major markets France and Italy among the opening days. The bulk of the offshore majors come online Thursday including the UK, Germany, Australia, Russia, Korea and Brazil. From there, the eighth installment in the sci-fi saga will hyperdrive into the rest of offshore play through Friday (excluding China, which bows January 5). In the first session there are 776 Imax screens in 68 countries.
The main comp on Last Jedi is, of course, The Force Awakens, which in 2015 quenched a decade-long thirst among longtime fans and brought newer ones into the galaxy. That film made $281M in its first weekend at the international box office ($286M including India, which opened later in 2015 but is day-and-date this time). Today, the figure in like-for-like markets on Force Awakens translates to about $290M-plus with currency fluctuations taken into consideration. Coupled with its record domestic opening of $247.96M, Force Awakens posted a $537.96M global opening, which at one point was a record before Universal’s The Fate of the Furious eclipsed it this year with $541.9M.
Still, most agree that the film may burn more slowly than Force Awakens, but will be bright with even better playability. First reactions from the Los Angeles premiere on Saturday night were ecstatic, and there is little in the way of this movie at theaters around the world.
Add also the legacy of Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa and the big return of Mark Hamill alongside the new characters who gained a following in Force Awakens (and all the new merchandising that’s been available since), and The Last Jedi hits all quadrants. Word of mouth is expected to be forceful and repeat viewing a must, with lower drops (although Force Awakens did exceptionally well in its holds throughout the holiday season).
On Force Awakens, and at historical rates, China was the top opener at $52M but it does not factor in this launch. The UK was No. 1 on opening weekend at $50.6M in historical dollars, followed by Germany ($27.5M), France ($22.5M), Australia ($19.6M) and Japan ($13.4M). Ultimately, the UK led all offshore markets with $165M, followed by China $123, Germany $120, Japan $103M and France $95M – all at today’s rates.
In the UK, Vue Cinemas are packing venues with the film on a round-the-clock basis beginning at midnight Wednesday night (Thursday morning). For a full 72 hours, the movie will play continually and tickets have been sold for each of the showings including those at 3 AM and 5 AM. As with Force Awakens, some moviegoers are scheduling their screenings before heading into work.
Currency swings, as always, must be kept in mind. One source suggests the European majors may be lower on Last Jedi than Force Awakens at open, but still expects growth in the emerging markets in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Also, countries in the southern hemisphere are on school vacations.
Force Awakens ended up as the fourth highest-grossing international release ever with $1.13 billion and the No. 3 movie of all time globally at $2.07B. In the U.S. and Canada, it’s the highest-grossing film imaginable at $936.7M, and unseated Avatar, which at $760.5M, held the all-time spot for six years. Force Awakens had a 3.5 multiple overseas (excluding wildcard China) and a 55%-45% international-domestic split (which does include China). Stateside, it legged out to a 3.77x multiple which is a greater leg-out factor than such big summer pics as Jurassic World (3.1x) and Marvel’s The Avengers (3x). Last December’s Rogue One is also worth bearing in mind as a comp, although as a stand-alone, it is not in the same stratosphere. It opened in like-for-like markets last year to roughly $150M (at today’s numbers) and ended with a 3.2 multiple (also excluding China) with an ultimately even spread foreign to domestic.
On the marketing side, the Disney team created stunts to support advance ticket sales around the world including a lightsaber projection in Sydney Harbor, a Canary Wharf station takeover in the UK, and a roadblock on Mediaset channels in Italy.
Disney also collaborated with Korea’s top app, Kakao, to integrate Last Jedi content into their taxi, navigation, maps and social platforms. There was also an extensive partnership with Russia’s top browser, Yandex, with a Star Wars-themed takeover of its apps.
The Star Wars: Droid Repair Bay VR experience rolled out to roughly 30 markets, hitting hundreds of retail stores, mall exhibits, cinema lobbies and other special events.
The publicity tour started with trip to Japan in September and since then the talent and filmmakers have gone to France, Mexico, Singapore and Vietnam (with Kelly Marie Tran and Veronica Ngo both of Vietnamese descent, this was the first time a Star Wars movie has stopped there).
The European premiere will be held in London on Tuesday night which will also be attended by princes William and Harry, who are rumored to have cameos as stormtroopers in the movie (it’s good to be the almost King…). The China premiere at the Shanghai Disneyland Resort will take place December 20.
Also opening in approximately 3,600 theaters is 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios’ Ferdinand, based on Murno Leaf and Robert Lawson’s book about a gentle giant bull who is taken away from his home, and fights his way back with the help of a misfit team. It’s PG, aimed at the kids who are too young for the PG-13 dark-side antics of The Last Jedi.
Two years ago, Fox counter-programmed The Force Awakens with another handholder title, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, which earned $14.2M and churned a 6x holiday multiple with a final domestic of $85.9M. Tracking has Ferdinand between $15M-$20M.