Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox Inc. may have just signed a historic merger deal, but the two studios will drop competing wide releases for the weekend box office.
Disney will release "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which has forecasters and investors giddy with anticipation. The latest film in the iconic franchise could land in the ballpark of "The Force Awakens," the 2015 Star Wars film that became the top domestic opener of all time.
Disney, however, is trying to moderate expectations, according to The Hollywood Reporter, noting that "The Force Awakens" "had the distinction of being the first Star Wars film in a decade."
On the other hand, reports cite a tsunami of presale tickets, and critics seem to have been mind tricked, with sources like The Atlantic making a case that it could be the best Star Wars film since 1980 title "The Empire Strikes Back." Rotten Tomatoes gave "The Last Jedi" a formidable 93% "Certified Fresh" rating, as of 8 a.m. ET on Dec. 15.
"The Force Awakens" opened to nearly $250.0 million. Forecasters this time around are generally tamping expectations for a slower burn on "The Last Jedi," but most still see the film cresting the $200 million mark in its domestic opening weekend. BoxOffice.com tagged it with a $210 million forecast. The Reporter agreed, offering a general "$200 million range" forecast, echoed by Variety. Deadline Hollywood decided to put some more chips on the table with a range of $224 million to $240 million.
"The Last Jedi" will open in over a dozen international markets over the weekend, as well, and expectations put it around $425 million for the global opening. The tally will likely jump again with a January opening in China.
"The Force Awakens" ultimately collected a whopping $2.56 billion in total revenue by the time it left theaters, adding $1.69 billion in net profit to Disney's coffers, a 65.9% margin. The next top opening Star Wars title was "Rogue One," which saw $155.1 million over its debut weekend and exited on $1.20 billion in total revenue and $610.4 million in net profit.
Whatever the weekend result, "The Last Jedi" should help prop up a weak year-over-year box office comparison, which was down about 2.4% for the full year after the prior-weekend results.
Also supporting "The Last Jedi," there will be little new notable competition over the weekend, except Fox's bid to offer something for smaller children with "Ferdinand." BoxOffice.com forecasts the animated family movie will bank $17 million at opening. Deadline and the Reporter generally agreed.
The movie, which was running at a "fresh" 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compares well with films like "Rio," "Ice Age," "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!," "The Peanuts Movie" and "Epic." The average opening gross for those films was $41.7 million, leading to average total revenue of $554.1 million and an average profit margin of 36.8%.