Box Office: ‘The Last Jedi’ May Be The Most Frontloaded ‘Star Wars’ Movie Yet – Forbes
Today is Sept. 15, 2017, which means we are exactly three months out from the domestic release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Well, if we’re being honest, the film will open on Thursday the 14th at (presumably) 7:00 pm in much of the country, where it will try to at the very least challenge Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2’s $43 million midnight/Thursday haul if not Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ record-busting $57m Thursday take. But point being, all eyes will be on Lucasfilm and Walt Disney in three months’ time to see what kind of magic they can replicate two years after the record-crushing domestic theatrical run of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
As far as how well The Last Jedi will perform compared to its predecessor, that’s somewhat of an open question. On one hand, The Force Awakens was essentially a movie 32 years in the making, a genuine sequel to Return of the Jedi with several major returning cast members no less. It was as anticipated as any movie in recent memory, and it clobbered all realistic expectations to earn $248 million on opening weekend and $937m total in North America alone. So you can certainly make the argument that the same level of hype won’t be matched this time out, if only because The Last Jedi will be more of a known entity and merely a sequel to a well-liked mega-hit from two years prior.
However, folks really liked The Force Awakens. Hype, nostalgia and franchise interest notwithstanding, it snagged a 3.77x weekend-to-final multiplier, still the third-leggiest $100 million+ opener behind Shrek 2 (which opened on a Wednesday) and Wonder Woman ($411m/$103.251m). That means that folks are going to be that much more willing to see the next one perhaps on opening weekend. If the stuff that hooked you about The Force Awakens (the plot twists, the reveal that Rey was the lead hero, etc.), wasn’t in the marketing campaign, then it stands to reason that those elements (specifically the new characters) are going to sway some folks who saw The Force Awakens in January to see The Last Jedi on opening weekend.
Watch On Forbes: Star Wars By The Numbers
No, I’m not arguing that The Last Jedi is going to match or top the $248 million debut of The Force Awakens, although a Thursday preview gross close to $57m wouldn’t shock me. But what will be interesting is how leggy the movie turns out to be. Here’s the thing: It is entirely possible, if not plausible, that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi will be the most frontloaded Star Wars movie of all time. Even the with key pre-Christmas December opening, we may see a situation where, entirely by default, The Last Jedi has smaller/shorter legs than any live-action (not Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and mainstream (sorry, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure) Star Wars movie to date.
To wit, the first two Star Wars movies were glorified platform releases, not hitting even 700 theaters until their eighth and fifth respective weekends of release. Return of the Jedi went wide on Memorial Day weekend of 1983, where it earned a then-record $23 million Fri-Sun/$33m Wed-Sun debut weekend toward an eventual $252m initial domestic total. That would be a 10.9x weekend-to-final multiplier, huge by any standards but slightly more common in the era of Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop.
By the time The Phantom Menace opened, megaplexes were out in force and it was a lot easier for moviegoers to avoid sold-out shows and or major crowds while seeing said movies with upgraded surround sound, stadium seating and other perks. The film opened on 2,970 screens in May of 1999 and, thanks to very strict terms from Lucasfilm to the theaters, that film stayed in the biggest auditoriums for the first two months of play. That’s partially why it legged it to $431 million domestic from a $64m Fri-Sun/$105m Wed-Sun debut, or a whopping (and huge for 1999) 6.6x multiplier.
As noted two weeks ago, among all movies that opened with at least $30 million in their Fri-Sun frames, The Phantom Menace’s multiplier sits behind only (unless I missed one) Avatar ($77m/$760m), Jurassic Park ($50m/$357m), The Lion King ($41m/$312), Sing ($35m/$270m), The Blind Side ($33m/$256m), Saving Private Ryan ($30m/$216m) and Night at the Museum ($30m/$251m). It’s not a shock, in retrospect, that Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were more frontloaded. The moviegoing business gets more frontloaded all the time, and Attack of the Clones had to face Spider-Man, which was the first time that a Star Wars movie wasn’t the biggest game in town.
The second prequel earned a $80 million Fri-Sun/$110m Thurs-Sun weekend and a $302m initial domestic total, giving it a still superb 3.77x multiplier. Yes, with the caveat that Attack of the Clones had a $30 million opening Thursday, both Attack of the Clones and The Force Awakens had identical weekend-to-final multipliers. Revenge of the Sith had a $50m Thursday in May 2005 (a record single day at the time), and it earned an additional $108m over its Fri-Sun debut (second only to Spider-Man’s $114m Fri-Sun opening at the time) and $381m domestic. That’s a 3.5x multiplier, or just above the 3.43x multiplier ($532m/$155m) of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
What’s notable about Rogue One is that, obscene overall numbers notwithstanding, the New Hope prequel/stand-alone Star Wars story played more like a standard December biggie, with a multiplier closer to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3.58x) or Sherlock Holmes (3.35x) than The Force Awakens or King Kong. Again, this is mostly trivia then it is any real sign of peril (horrors… a 3.43x multiplier from a $155m debut!), but it does leave open the possibility that The Last Jedi will take the arbitrary title of most frontloaded Star Wars movie in two months’ time. If it opens huge (even for Star Wars standards) and yet plays like a standard December release, well, let’s do a little math.
The conventional wisdom this far out, reviews and word-of-mouth obviously unknown, is that The Last Jedi will do around $750 million-$800 million this Christmas, good enough to easily take the domestic crown but not enough to best Wolf Warrior 2 as the year’s biggest single-territory grosser. By the way, The Last Jedi, like Wolf Warrior 2, is another great example of a big movie that is strong enough in its native country to not require an overseas rescue. But I digress, and that’s not an official prediction so much as a realistic number around which to base some math.
A $242 million opening (the same 3% drop as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and a 3.32x multiplier (the same as I Am Legend) gets the movie to $800m domestic. A $228m opening weekend (same 8% drop as Avengers: Age of Ultron) and a 3.5x multiplier (think The Hobbit) would be enough to get Star Wars 8 over $800m domestic as well. But, if it falls on opening weekend closer to Spectre (-20%) and earns $197m over the weekend (horrors, I know) and then plays like Rogue One, then it’ll be a sad/shameful $675m domestic, or third behind Avatar and The Force Awakens in terms of unadjusted domestic gross.
We’ll see how the “Yay!” factors (return of older and newer characters, a starring role for Luke Skywalker, the farewell to Carrie Fisher, etc.) fare against the “Nay!” factors (a lot more competition over Christmas in the form of Sony’s Jumanji, Universal/Comcast Corp.’s Pitch Perfect 3 and Fox’s Ferdinand), the lack of mystery/surprise, the potential for a comparatively frontloaded run) fare for Star Wars: The Last Jedi in three months’ time. Once again, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch this play out. Place your bets now…