The Force is strong with this one, too.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’’ the latest installment of the epic sci-fi adventure series now owned by Walt Disney Co., met the high expectations set by movie fans and analysts with an opening weekend of $220 million in the U.S. and the Canada.
The results, based on estimates released Sunday by ComScore Inc., put the film squarely ahead of last year’s spinoff movie “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which took in $158 million in its opening weekend. It will likely establish “The Last Jedi” as the top-grossing picture of 2017. The new film reaped $230 million in other countries around the world, except China, where it will open next month. Disney had expected $225 million overseas.
Disney set a high bar for itself. The first chapter in the latest trilogy, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” took in an all-time North American record of $255 million in its opening weekend in 2015. Independent forecasts for “The Last Jedi” had run as high as $226 million from the Hollywood Stock Exchange and $210 million from Box Office Pro. Disney predicted the film would take in about $200 million.
“This just speaks to the power of Disney storytelling — how they are able to get their movies right time after time,” said Geetha Ranganathan, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “Especially this year when we have so much concern with ‘sequilitis’ or franchise fatigue.”
The strong performance of “The Last Jedi” will reassure investors in Disney, which has at least five more “Star Wars” films in the works and last week made an even bigger commitment to the film business through its $66.1 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s entertainment assets.
“The Last Jedi” was well received by critics, with 96 percent positive reviews from top critics, according to aggregator RottenTomatoes.com. As they did for previous “Star Wars” films, fans began lining up outside theaters days before the debut. The film took in $45 million Thursday evening shows in the U.S. and Canada, an amount bested only by “The Force Awakens” two years ago.
“To have a movie do $220 million domestically is an extraordinary thing and to be as close to the phenomenon that was ‘The Force Awakens’ is certainly more than we expected,” Dave Hollis, Disney’s global head of distribution, said in a telephone interview Sunday.
The movie picks up where that film ended, with Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, seeking out Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker to encourage him to take up his light saber and fight with the Resistance. Carrie Fisher returned as Princess Leia. Fisher’s death in December 2016, after filming was complete, probably brought fans in to see her final performance.
Younger actors, including Adam Driver as bad guy Kylo Ren, and John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, reprising their roles as Resistance fighters Finn and Poe Dameron, no doubt drew in a new generation of devotees.
Some viewers have posted negative comments about the movie on RottenTomatoes, while other measures of audience reaction from Cinemascore and ComScore have been positive.
Any online debate over the movie is just another reason to see the film, Hollis said. “It turns conversation into fuel that ultimately drives people back into movie theaters,” he said.
Disney didn’t disclose the budget of the film. “The Force Awakens” cost $245 million and brought in $2.07 billion worldwide over its theatrical run, including $936.7 million in North America.
Fox offered the only other wide release this weekend with the animated film “Ferdinand.’’ It generated $13.3 million while coming in second. The story of a kind-hearted bull trying to find his way back home scored 75 percent positive reviews from top critics on RottenTomatoes. It had a production budget of $111 million and was projected to place second with $17 million on its debut, according to Box Office Mojo.