Disney will ring out its $10 billion-plus global 2019 with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, in what is expected to be a $450M global opening. That’s what Star Wars: The Last Jedi opened to in 2017, behind The Force Awakens’ $528.9M.
Skywalker rises in France, Germany and Italy on Wednesday with previews in China and domestic previews starting at 6 p.m. Thursday. Broken out, the expectation is at least $200M+ in U.S./Canada (with an asterisk — read on) and $250M abroad. This includes about $20M expected from China, which has not warmed to the space saga despite Disney’s best efforts to create a following.
But is Skywalker the last event-pic mega global opening until 2021?
While there’s bound to be big pics next year, you have to wait until 2021 before you get to the pent-up demand features such as Thor: Love and Thunder, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Matrix 4 and of course the mother of them all, Avatar 2, on December 17.
Some disagree with this theory that Rise of Skywalker is the last big global opener until 2021, pointing to how other franchises — such as the Marvel pics — tend to over-index abroad, pulling in 60% of their global ticket sales, with China and South Korea being big markets. But 2020 is a wonky reset year for Marvel with frosh property The Eternals set for November and the May-launching Black Widow, a spinoff about a Bond-like female Russian assassin who doesn’t have superpowers (and who hasn’t seen that before?).
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Bond himself typically doesn’t do a day-and-date release, and MGM/Universal’s No Time to Die is starting in the UK and select foreign territories on April 2 before domestic’s April 10 bow.
If Warner Bros./DC’s Wonder Woman 1984 is going to do any business over $400M in her first weekend, it will need to beat the comic book label’s biggest global opener, Batman v. Superman ($422.5M), and make sure that China is along for the ride in its first weekend. Marvel has a better track record in larger numbers abroad than DC, and Captain Marvel‘s uber-debut of $456.7M was a tee-up to Avengers: Endgame. While Mulan should dominate China, it remains to be seen how it resonates in non-Asian markets; Beauty and the Beast —a much bigger property — is Disney’s biggest live-action princess (and adaptation of a feature toon) opening with $357M.
In regards to pics opening to north of $450M next year, if there’s one possibility, it’s Universal’s Fast & Furious 9 on May 22. That hinges on Uni firing off the sequel in 63 territories plus China, like it did with The Fate of the Furious, which delivered a $541.9M opening global weekend (the third-best of all time behind Avengers: Endgame $1.2 billion and Infinity War‘s $640.5M), $184.9M of that from China. Overall, studios don’t know if China will be part of their opening suite until 30 days prior to a pic’s release.
But back to Skywalker. We hear from exhibition that stateside advance ticket sales are on par with Last Jedi four days before opening and indicate a $200M opening, despite the fact that tracking has the J.J. Abrams-directed ninth-quel at $175M. There was an upbeat response coming out of the Hollywood premiere Monday night, with the feeling that the movie had course-corrected the flyaway hairs in the Star Wars canon from Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi, so there’s potential for over-indexing. Reviews hit after 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, December 18.
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Skywalker will play in 4,300+ theaters by Friday, including more than 3,200 3D locations, 415 Imax screens, 850 Premium Large Format screens and 275 D-Box/4D locations. Fan event screenings at 450 theaters will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday before the 6 p.m. early shows nationwide. Additionally, 21 theaters in major markets will run nine-film Star Wars marathons (kicking off Wednesday evening, leading into the Thursday 5 p.m. showing of Skywalker).
I hear from exhibition sources that Disney is enforcing a four-week engagement play in each venue’s largest auditorium for a film rental of 65%. Theaters are to provide no passes for the first two weeks of engagement and no discount tickets outside of a theater’s one weekly discount night. Three trailers must play on every print of Skywalker: Fox’s Call of the Wild, Marvel’s Black Widow and Disney’s Mulan. Any breach of these rules will result in a film rental of 70%. These are standard terms for a Disney Star Wars or Marvel pic, I understand.
The only major overseas market not releasing this session is Korea, which joins in January.
Previous Star Wars title The Last Jedi opened to $235M abroad in like-for-like markets and at today’s exchange rates. The Force Awakens did $312M in the same markets and at current rates. The leading hubs for Star Wars tend to include mature majors the UK, Germany, France, Japan and Australia, while China snuck into the Top 5 on Force Awakens given the curiosity factor, as did Rogue One with local actors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in the cast.
The sentiment abroad, like domestic, is that some fans felt burned by The Last Jedi — and perhaps more so by Solo, which came out too quickly after Episode VIII and had little evident raison d’être. So some might be on the fence about rushing out in the opening days and opt to wait a beat to hear which way word-of-mouth is leaning.
Still, Skywalker reps more than 40 years of history all wrapped up in this last movie, and it’s expected that folks will want to turn out to see the culmination of Lucas’ odyssey. Looking back to Episodes I-III, The Phantom Menace was a massive event but was pilloried, leading to Attack of the Clones dropping significantly. However, Revenge of the Sith bounced back up, though not to Phantom Menace numbers.
Says one international distribution exec, “How can it not be an event to wrap it all up?” Also, recall that The Force Awakens helped create a new young fan base who went back and watched the originals and will be in line this week.
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As for China, previews begin Wednesday night at 7 p.m. local, and we hear Skywalker is going wide on Thursday rather than Friday as previously announced. This marks a change from the recent holiday Star Wars installments, each of which bowed in the Middle Kingdom in January, after initial rollout elsewhere.
The timing, of course, is dictated by the Chinese authorities and gives Skywalker a coveted day-and-date release. A last-minute shakeup in China appears to have pushed Ip Man 4: The Finale (which was expected to underwhelm) back to January. Feng Xiaogang’s Only Cloud Knows is another major new pic in the market.
Still, as we’ve seen, China is not key to this franchise. Each of the new titles has had diminishing returns there. At historical rates, TFA did $124M, Rogue One came in at $69.5M and The Last Jedi made just $42.6M there (Solo grossed $16.5M off a late-May day-and-date release).
Disney has tried to increase awareness of (and fondness for) the franchise in China, but unlike on a lot of the rest of this planet, the 42-year old saga doesn’t have the hook of nostalgia for the characters and mythology. To help move the needle, Disney in October teamed with Tencent-owned China Literature to produce the first original Chinese Star Wars story for the latter’s online reading platform. The two companies also will distribute 40 Star Wars novels translated into Chinese for the first time.
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For reference, The Last Jedi finaled at $712M overseas at historic rates and was led by the UK, Germany, Japan, France and Australia. The Force Awakens did best in the UK, China, Germany, Japan and France, rolling up to a $1.13B international gross.
The cast and filmmakers have been traveling abroad in support. Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams, Ridley, Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels and Chris Terrio were all at a recent press conference and promo event in Tokyo while Abrams, Ridley, Isaac and Boyega attended Brazil Comic-Con. The European premiere is in London on Wednesday, where Ridley and Boyega also will film an appearance on The Graham Norton Show and Abrams, Kennedy and the cast will take part in a BAFTA Q&A.
Overall, Skywalker will be Imax’s widest global release ever with 1450 screens in 75 countries.
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Elsewhere stateside, Universal will unleash Working Title’s Cats as counterprogramming against Star Wars. Again, if this movie doesn’t do any business, it’s simply about getting some sort of start in the pre-Christmas market, with the studio banking that Broadway and The Greatest Showman fans will leg out this Tom Hooper-directed adaptation of the smash Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Showtimes being at 7 p.m. Thursday in what is expected to be a $15M-$20M weekend (it could very well go lower). The pic will be booked by Friday at 3,200 theaters. James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift and Rebel Wilson star. Cats will spring in the U.K. and Ireland as well, expanding the following week into 42 markets including France, Australia, Germany, Korea and Mexico. Its overseas rollout continues through February.
Lionsgate is also expanding Bron’s Jay Roach directed Bombshell after it detonated a great $76,800 per screen at four theaters. The film starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie about the women who take on Fox News boss Roger Ailes is poised to make between $7M-$12M.
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