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story.lead_photo.caption Adam Driver stars as Kylo Ren in Disney’s Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker. The film came in first at last weekend’s box office and made about $175.5 million.

Star Wars: Episode IX -- The Rise of Skywalker took in $175.5 million in its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, delivering yet another hit in what has been a record year for Walt Disney Co.

The new film, directed by J.J. Abrams, had to navigate tricky waters, pleasing legions of Star Wars fans while also delivering a conclusion to the current trilogy of pictures. At a press event this month, Abrams said he relied on the talent to help him pull it off.

"The scale of the movie is pretty enormous and none of that would work if you didn't care deeply," Abrams said. "The most important thing is the people. We have this incredible cast."

Internationally, The Rise of Skywalker took in $198 million, Comscore Inc. estimated Sunday. The film took in $12.1 million in China, where generally the Star Wars movies have been less popular.

"We're just excited that fans came out, given that this is a saga that evolved over more than 40 years," said Cathleen Taff, who oversees worldwide film distribution for Disney.

Taff said audience demographics, which included 71% adults, were comparable to the other films in the series. The picture likely benefited from other Star Wars productions this year, such as the opening of two themed lands at the company's theme parks and a hit show The Mandalorian on Disney's new streaming service. Those events give it a halo, she said.

Disney pitched its new movie as the riveting conclusion of the Skywalker saga. It features fresh faces from the first Disney-produced film in the saga, 2015's The Force Awakens, as well as beloved characters from the original Star Wars picture in 1977.

The company enjoyed its best year ever at the box office, fueled by megahits such as Avengers: Endgame and The Lion King.

Such expectations did not await Tom Hooper's adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats. The much-ridiculed big-screen musical, featuring infamous "digital fur technology," scratched out just $6.5 million in ticket sales, sending Mr. Mistoffelees (and Universal Pictures) home licking their wounds.

The $100 million production, featuring an ensemble including Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, James Corden, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen and Taylor Swift, came in behind projections and opened in a distant fourth place. The movie drew an 18% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and a C-plus CinemaScore from audiences.

"Even modest opening in this extraordinary lucrative corridor can prove very kind to films," said Jim Orr, chief of distribution for Universal. He anticipates the film's strongest demographic -- older moviegoers -- will be most available over the holidays. "Our scores from those who are 55 and up are very good and very encouraging."

Holdovers Jumanji: The Next Level ($26.1 million in its second weekend) and Frozen 2 ($12.3 million in its fifth weekend) both surpassed Cats.

Rise of Skywalker culminated a tumultuous period in Star Wars, finishing off both a trilogy and nine-film cycle begun 42 years ago by George Lucas. In 2012, Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion. While its stewardship of Star Wars has drawn enormous box-office proceeds, The Rise of Skywalker had its work cut out in trailing both the much-debated Last of the Jedi and the 2018 dud Solo: A Star Wars Story.

In November, Disney chief executive Bob Iger told investors that Star Wars will go into a hiatus after Rise of Skywalker. The next Star Wars movie, which is to be set outside the Skywalker saga, isn't scheduled for release until 2022. Game of Thrones makers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss recently pulled out of planned Star Wars trilogy.

Lately, Star Wars has also been a hit on the small screen, too. The Mandalorian helped launch the Disney Plus streaming service. To make way for Rise of Skywalker, the latest episode of The Mandalorian debuted on Dec. 18, instead of Friday.

But Disney can still make considerable demands on theaters for Star Wars films. Disney charges theaters 65% of ticket sales, or about 10 percentage points more than standard, for Star Wars releases, and requires a run of four weeks.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore, said Rise of Skywalker could only be painted by others as a disappointment because of the franchise's and the studio's extraordinary track record. The film will likely become Disney's seventh $1 billion release of the year (a record) and give the studio seven of the top 10 films of the year.

"It's time to devote a lot of attention to the streaming environment for Star Wars and then come back with a vengeance," Dergarabedian said. "There's a lot of lessons to be learned and certainly from this latest installment."

Rise of Skywalker helped improve the shortfall at the box office compared to last year, but ticket sales are still running 4.6% behind 2018, according to Comscore.

In its national expansion, the Lionsgate Fox News drama Bombshell underperformed expectations with $5.1 million in 1,481 theaters. Rian Johnson's Last Jedi follow-up, the starry whodunit Knives Out continues to do strong business for Lionsgate. After $6.1 million in its sixth weekend, it has grossed $185.6 million globally.

MovieStyle on 12/27/2019

Print Headline: Star Wars on top as Disney continues to dominate


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