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Disney's 2019 profits go sky-high with latest 'Star Wars'

After scoring six movies that exceeded $1 billion at the worldwide box office, The Walt Disney Co. is set to cap its record year with "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker."

The film is the ninth and final entry in the franchise's "Skywalker" saga that George Lucas first brought to the big screen in 1977. Director J.J. Abrams, who also directed 2015's "The Force Awakens," returns to wrap up the storyline.

Box office trackers expect "The Rise of Skywalker" to open domestically in the $175 million to $200 million range, while Disney is more cautiously predicting an opening at about $160 million. In comparison, 2017's "The Last Jedi" opened with $220 million and ended its run with estimated net profits of $692.2 million. "The Force Awakens" opened with $248 million and raked in net profits of about $1.38 billion, according to Kagan, a media market research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.

SNL Image"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"
Source: Disney

Critics are not terribly impressed with the latest installment. As of 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 19, "The Rise of Skywalker" had a 58% "rotten" rating on critical review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, much lower than the 93% and 91% scores garnered by "The Force Awakens" and "The Last Jedi," respectively.

"'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' suffers from a frustrating lack of imagination, but concludes this beloved saga with fan-focused devotion," read the critics consensus on the website.

The other wide-release film opening over the Dec. 20 weekend is Universal's "Cats," based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical. Directed by Tom Hooper, the film features a star-studded cast that includes Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen and Taylor Swift.

As if competing with "Star Wars" was not hard enough, "Cats" is also releasing with poor reviews from critics and even more negative reactions from people who viewed the film's trailers, with the complaints mostly focused on the visual effects used to digitally transform the actors into cat-like creatures. As of 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 19, the musical had a mere 17% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

"Cats" is tracking to debut domestically in the $14 million to $17 million range, compared to a production budget of $100 million. Kagan compares the film to other musicals that opened during the holiday season, such as "The Greatest Showman" in 2017, "Into the Woods" in 2014 and "Les Misérables" in 2012. All of these titles turned a profit, with "The Greatest Showman" being a notable success story. That film opened with only $8.8 million domestically, but ended its run with $340.7 million, which yielded a profit margin of 50.9%.

SNL Image