The Main Story
No news over the weekend could’ve been less surprising than the revelation that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — the first-ever Star Wars film to deviate from the main nine-movie saga — topped the box office comfortably. But at approximately $155 million, its opening presents a fascinating case study in the relativity of movie performance. $155 million is, without a doubt, a comically large amount of money, and it’s hard to qualify the performance as anything but a success for Disney and Lucasfilm. When we’re talking Star Wars, though — and particularly after the record-setting performance of Force Awakens last year — the more interesting question to be considered is: How big of a success should we expect?
Nobody imagined that Rogue One, which lacks any recognizable characters from the first seven Star Wars films, could come even close to The Force Awakens’ record-setting domestic bow of $248 million. Disney estimated an opening in the $120-150 million range, though some observers like Box Office Mojo went even higher, with Mojo mentioning a high-end possibility of $177-182 million. At $155 million, it did about 62 percent of Force Awakens’ business, delivering the 12th-highest opening of all time and the third-best of 2016.
But if you wanted to nitpick that result, you could start with the two movies it lagged behind this year: Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman. In the age of cinematic universes, you can characterize most tentpoles as belonging to one of two different categories: either the team-up megaevents that combine the threads of multiple different films, as in the two Avengers films and BvS; or the smaller, narrower movies that flesh out the universe’s characters, à la Marvel’s many different sub-franchises and DC’s upcoming Wonder Woman. Rogue One qualifies as the latter, making its gross more impressive than it would be were it Episode VIII, which is slated for next year. Comparing Rogue One to Civil War then (as well as to the other most-impressive non-Avengers opening — 2013’s Iron Man 3 and its $174.1 million box office), suggests that, while the Star Wars cinematic universe may have already proven itself to be the only sure-thing in blockbusters aside from Marvel, Star Wars might still be playing (just slightly) second fiddle to that brand. (Fortunately for Disney, it owns both.)
As for Batman v. Superman, which out-grossed Rogue One, its case suffers from being the kind of high-wattage event film that should be a billion-dollar earner. It topped Rogue One, but it should’ve topped Rogue One, and there’s a very good chance Rogue One will surpass it by the end of its run, both domestically and internationally. Rogue One also soundly beat Suicide Squad, a comparable release considering its similar status as an ensemble side-event to the main action, and it did so with fewer stars and less audience familiarity with the material.
All in all, while a case could be made that Rogue One should’ve earned more in its debut, it still did quite well, and it spun off from its main franchise with an ease and audience reception that both Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them struggled to find. What’s more, Rogue One added another $135 million worldwide. Week two will provide a good glimpse of how firmly it resounded with the public: It’ll have some competition from Passengers, Assassin’s Creed, and Sing, and has the high bar of Force Awakens miniscule 39.8 percent drop to compare to. If it can better Civil War’s 59.5 percent drop, that would be great news.
What Else Happened?
Well, Collateral Beauty didn’t. The savagely reviewed Will Smith schmaltz-delivery vehicle grossed an embarrassing $7 million across 3,028 theaters; that’s the worst opening ever for a Will Smith movie, and good for the fourth-worst per-theater average for a movie opening in more than 3,000 locations.
Meanwhile, La La Land had the opposite result, successfully expanding to 200 theaters in its second weekend and managing $4 million, good for about $20,000 per theater. Manchester by the Sea also continued to expand, earning $4.15 million from just over 1,200 theaters, and its total gross now stands at just over $14 million. The other Best Picture front-runner, Moonlight, currently stands at $11.5 million. Denzel Washington’s Fences also had a decent showing in its first weekend of limited release, taking in $128,000 from four theaters.
The rest of the top five was filled with returning titles, including Moana at No. 2 with $11.7 million; Office Christmas Party at No. 3 with $8.5 million; and Fantastic Beasts at No. 4 with $5 million. Fantastic Beasts’ $207.7 million is some $40 million short of the lowest-grossing Harry Potter movie, Prisoner of Azkaban, and it’s unlikely that it’ll be able to make up the difference in its last few weekends of release.