‘Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker’ Eyes $450M+ Global Debut: The Last Huge Event Opening At The B.O. Until 2021?

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Disney will ring out its $10 billion-plus global 2019 with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, in what is expected to be a $450M global opening, which is what Star Wars: The Last Jedi opened to in 2017, behind Force Awakens’ near $528.9M. Skywalker rises in France, Germany and Italy tomorrow with previews in China with domestic previews starting Thursday at 6PM. Broken out the expectation is at least $200M in U.S./Canada (with an asterisk — read on) and $250M abroad. This includes about $20M expected from China which has not warmed to the space saga, despite Disney’s best efforts to create a following.

But is Skywalker the last event pic mega global opening until 2021?

While there is bound to be big pics next year, you have to wait until 2021 until you get to the pent-up demand features such as Thor: Love and Thunder, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Matrix 4 and of course the mother of them all, Avatar 2, on Dec. 17.

Some disagree with this theory that Rise of Skywalker is the last big global opener until 2021 pointing to how other franchises, such as the Marvel pics, tend to overindex abroad pulling in 60% of their global ticket sales with China and South Korea being big markets. But 2020 is a wonky reset year for Marvel with frosh property Eternals next November and Black Widow, a spinoff about a female Bond-like assassin (who hasn’t seen that before?) who doesn’t have superpowers.

Bond himself typically doesn’t do a day and date release with No Time to Die starting in the UK and select foreign territories first on April 2 before domestic’s April 10.

If Wonder Woman 1984 is going to do any business over $400M in her first weekend, she’ll need to beat Warner Bros. DC’s biggest global opener Batman v. Superman ($422.5M), and make sure that China is along for the ride in its first weekend. Marvel has a better track record in opening bigger abroad than DC, and Captain Marvel‘s uber-debut of $456.7M was a tee-up to Avengers: Endgame. While Mulan should dominate China, it remains to be seen how it resonates in non-Asian markets; Beauty and the Beast —a much bigger propertyis Disney’s biggest live action princess (and adaptation of a feature toon) opening with $357M.

In regards to pics opening to north of $450M next year, if there’s one possibility, it’s Universal’s Fast & Furious 9 on May 22. That hinges on Uni firing off the 9th sequel in 63 territories plus China like they did with The Fate of the Furious, which delivered a $541.9M opening global weekend (the third best of all-time behind Avengers: Endgame $1.2 billion and Infinity War‘s $640.5M), $184.9M of that from China.

But back to Skywalker. Recently we hear from exhibition that stateside advance ticket sales are on par with Last Jedi four days before opening and indicate a $200M opening despite the fact that tracking as the J.J. Abrams-directed ninth-quel at $175M. There was an upbeat response coming out of the Hollywood premiere last night, with the feeling that the movie had course-corrected the flyaway hairs in the Star Wars canon from Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi, so there’s potential for over-indexing. Reviews hit after 12:01 AM on Wednesday, Dec. 18.

Skywalker will play in 4,300+ theaters by Friday including over 3,200 3D locations, 415 IMAX screens, 850 Premium Large Format screens and 275 D-Box/4D locations.Fan event screenings at 450 theatres will take place at 5PM Thursday before 6PM previews nationwide. Additionally, 21 theatres in major markets will run 9 film Star Wars Marathons (kicking off Wednesday evening, leading into the Thursday 5pm showing of Skywalker.

I hear from exhibition sources that Disney is enforcing a four week engagement play in each venue’s largest auditorium for a film rental of 65%. Theaters are to provide no passes for the first two weeks of engagement, and no discount tickets outside of a theater’s one weekly discount night. Three trailers must play on every print of Skywalker: Fox’s Call of the Wild, Marvel’s Black Widow and Disney’s Mulan. Any breach of these rules will result in a film rental of 70%.

No one is expecting Thursday night previews to be at the level of Force Awakens which made $57M and was recently unseated by Avengers: Endgame ($60M) which became the best domestic preview night of all-time. The Last Jedi earned $45M in previews while Rogue One in 2016 did $29M, and Solo $14.1M. Expect Thursday night to be around the Last Jedi range.

Overseas the only major market not releasing this session is Korea which joins in January.

Previous title The Last Jedi opened to $235M abroad in like-for-like markets and at today’s exchange rates. The Force Awakens did $312M in the same markets and at current rates. The leading hubs for Star Wars tend to always include mature majors the UK, Germany, France, Japan and Australia while China snuck into the Top 5 on Force Awakens given the curiosity factor, as did Rogue One with local actors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in the cast.

The sentiment abroad, like domestic, is that some fans felt burned by The Last Jedi, and perhaps more so by Solo which came out too quickly after Episode VIII and had little evident raison d’être. So, some may be on the fence about rushing out in the opening days and will wait a beat to hear which way word of mouth is leaning.

Still, Skywalker reps nearly 45 years of history all wrapped up in this last movie and it’s expected folks will want to turn out to see the culmination of Lucas’ odyssey. Looking back to Episodes I-III, The Phantom Menace was a massive event, but was pilloried, leading to Attack Of The Clones dropping significantly. However, Revenge Of The Sith (arguably the best of that trilogy) bounced back up, though not to Phantom Menace numbers.

Says one international distribution exec, “How can it not be an event to wrap it all up?” Also, recall that The Force Awakens helped create a new young fan base who went back and watched the originals and will be in line this week.

As for China, previews begin Wednesday night at 7PM local and we hear Skywalker is going wide on Thursday rather than Friday as previously announced. This marks a change from the recent holiday Star Wars installments which have each bowed in the Middle Kingdom in January, after initial rollout elsewhere.

The timing is of course dictated by the Chinese authorities and gives Skywalker a coveted day-and-date release. A last-minute shake-up in China appears to have pushed Ip Man 4: The Finale (which was expected to underwhelm) back to January. Feng Xiaogang’s Only Cloud Knows is another major new pic in the market.

Still, as we’ve seen, China is not key to this franchise. Each of the new titles has had diminishing returns there. At historical rates, TFA did $124M, Rogue One came in at $69.5M and The Last Jedi made just $42.6M there (Solo grossed $16.5M off a late-May day-and-date release).

Disney has tried to increase awareness of (and fondness for) the franchise in China, but unlike on a lot of the rest of this planet, the 42-year old saga doesn’t have the hook there of nostalgia for the characters and mythology. To help move the needle, Disney in October teamed with Tencent-owned China Literature to produce the first original Chinese Star Wars story for the latter’s online reading platform. The two companies will also distribute 40 Star Wars novels translated into Chinese for the first time.

For reference, The Last Jedi finaled at $712M overseas at historic rates and was led by the UK, Germany, Japan, France and Australia. The Force Awakens did best in the UK, China, Germany, Japan and France, rolling up to a $1.13B international gross.

The cast and filmmakers have been traveling abroad in support. Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams, Ridley, Boyega, Anthony Daniels and Chris Teri were all at a recent press conference and promo event in Tokyo while Abrams and Ridley attended Brazil Comic-con.

Overall, Skywalker will be IMAX’s widest global release ever with 1450 screens in 75 countries.

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