BoxOffice.com is posting the first long-range educated guestimates for the opening weekend of Walt Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. And the general range is between $185 million and $225 million, which is frankly about where we all presumed The Last Jedi would land. Of course, if The Rise of Skywalker opens below $220 million, it’ll be lower than both The Force Awakens ($248 million) and The Last Jedi ($220 million). Yes, it will be interesting if all three Disney Star Wars “episodes” open lower than each previous chapter. While the previous two Star Wars trilogies have followed a similar pattern in terms of total grosses (part II is around 30% below part I while part III is around 25% above part II), the opening weekends all tended to increase.
Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars movie to open wide, with a then-record $41 million Wed-Mon Memorial Day weekend debut. The Phantom Menace earned $64 million over the Fri-Sun frame of a then-record $105 million Wed-Sun debut, followed by Attack of the Clones ($80 million Fri-Sun/$110 million Thus-Sun) and Revenge of the Sith ($108 million Fri-Sun/$158 million Thurs-Sun). The Force Awakens snagged the biggest opening ever, while The Last Jedi opened with the second biggest (at that time) Fri-Sun debut two years later. For The Rise of Skywalker to even come in third place would require an opening above $248 million (below Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame), which seems unlikely. Even if it ends up merely in the top ten openers, we’re not talking doom-n-gloom here.
The full picture for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, helmed by J.J. Abrams and being touted as the final chapter in the Skywalker-specific Star Wars saga, will be told over its first week rather than its opening weekend. Because, as you know, mid-to-late-December releases tend to do ridiculous multipliers thanks to a two-week portion, until the beginning of the next year, where kids are out of school and many adults are off work. That’s why Disney picked this slot when they moved The Force Awakens out of May 2015 in the first place, seeing the potential for a Star Wars movie on the same weekend, give or take the calendar, as the six Middle Earth movies, Titanic, Avatar, King Kong and (eventually) Aquaman. It wasn’t an accident.
More importantly, the calendar is such this year where Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker could open below The Last Jedi and still end up leggier over the long haul. First, unlike The Last Jedi (and like The Force Awakens), the Fri-Sun frame for Star Wars IX will bleed directly into the two-week holiday break. The Last Jedi had to wait until its second Monday to take advantage of holiday weekdays, which was a big reason why it ended up comparatively frontloaded. It earned 2.8x its opening weekend, fine for most big movies but, yes, frontloaded for a major holiday release. Moreover, The Rise of Skywalker will have just two days between its first Sunday (December 22) and Christmas Day (December 25, a Wednesday) after which it’ll really kick into gear.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens had to wait until its first Friday for Christmas Day, as did and Titanic ($600 million/$28 million in 1997)and Avatar ($749 million/$77 million in 2009). Yes, they all opened on December 18. Conversely, Erogon ($75 million from a $23 million launch in 2006), Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($620 million/$220 million in 2017)and I Am Legend ($256 million/$77 million) all opened early enough (December 14 or December 15) to have to wait for the holiday rush. All three were uncommonly frontloaded holiday biggies. That said, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($304 million/$84 million in 2012), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ($532 million/$155 million in 2016)and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ($258 million/$73 million in 2013) opened over/under the same day.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that if one of the key variables concerning The Last Jedi‘s comparatively frontloaded performance was its distance from Christmas and related end-of-year holiday breaks, that’s not a factor this time out. So if it merely legs out like Eragon (3.2x), I Am Legend (3.3x), The Desolation of Smaug (3.5x) or Rogue One (3.5x), then even a $200 million debut would net it a final domestic gross of between $640 million and $700 million. And if it withstands the combined might of Jumanji: The Next Level (December 13), Cats (December 20) and both Little Women and Spies in Disguise on Christmas and legs out closer to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3.6x), well, that would be $720 million.
Barring an opening weekend closer to Force Awakens than Black Panther or The Avengers, $720 million domestic would probably be a best-case scenario. All of this is a way to note that while we may see headlines over the next two months, especially when official tracking drops in five weeks, about the final chapter of the Rey/Finn/Poe/Kylo saga opening below The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens, the real question is whether a more beneficial post-debut holiday schedule will allow for longer legs. Its opening weekend will bleed right into the holiday break. Its first Wednesday will be Christmas while its second Wednesday will be New Year’s Day. Now that may mean it may be frontloaded AFTER the first 13 days, but that’s a conversation for another day.