“The Last Jedi” is giving movie-theater chains a new hope for 2018.
Walt Disney Co.’s latest chapter in the Star Wars saga became the No. 1-grossing movie of the year after generating an estimated $52.4 million in U.S. and Canadian sales over the weekend, according to estimates Sunday from researcher ComScore Inc. The film’s domestic total of $517.1 million for 2017 topped the $504 million tallied by the previous No. 1, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
The success of “The Last Jedi,” combined with a surprisingly strong run this month from Sony Corp.’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” is an encouraging sign for Hollywood, which has been through a brutal year of big-budget bombs and competitive threats. The overall box office in the U.S., the world’s biggest movie market, finished the year down 2.3 percent to $11.1 billion, but the latest hits prove it’s possible to lure viewers away from their Netflix accounts.
“The Last Jedi” cemented Disney’s place as the top movie studio by market share for the second year in a row, and the company’s slate for 2018 makes a three peat look probable. A spinoff Star Wars movie in May will tell the backstory of Han Solo. Three Marvel superhero films — “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” — will be released in the next seven months. Childhood favorites “Mary Poppins,” “Wreck-It Ralph” and “The Incredibles” get new installments.
Competitors will try to bounce back from a year of disappointments with a barrage of sequels and reboots. Warner Bros. has more DC Comics and “Fantastic Beasts” films lined up; Universal Pictures revisits to “Jurassic World;” 20th Century Fox brings back mutant superhero Deadpool; Sony rolls out two Spider-Man-related movies; and Paramount Pictures produces a new edition of “Mission: Impossible” and a Transformers spinoff based on the Bumblebee character.
It will be difficult for any of those contenders to unseat Burbank, California-based Disney, which dominated the box office for the last two months of the year with its films holding the top spot for all but one weekend. Worldwide, “The Last Jedi” has tallied $1.04 billion, Disney said. The movie had been expected to generate $79 million over the four-day weekend including Monday, BoxOfficePro.com said.
But theater chains are rooting for Disney’s competitors to put up a better fight than in 2017, when weak offerings such as Warner Bros.’ “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” and Paramount’s “Baywatch” failed to capture the imagination and contributed to a slump in the shares of chains such as AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cinemark Holdings Inc.
Sony has shown some moxie with “Jumanji,” a remake of the 1995 Robin Williams fantasy. In its second weekend in theaters, where “The Last Jedi” is playing on multiple screens in many locations, the action-comedy starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson generated $50.6 million, according to ComScore. After exceeding estimates in its first weekend, the movie was expected to make $60 million for the four-day holiday weekend ending Monday, according to BoxOfficePro.com.
Audiences have so many other options for entertainment, from Netflix to Snapchat, that the movie industry is having to fight harder than ever to compete for attention. Some companies have begun looking for merger partners to cut costs and gain scale. Cineworld Group Plc, based in the U.K., agreed in December to acquire Regal Entertainment Group for about $3.6 billion, and Disney struck a $52.4 billion deal to buy the Fox studio and other assets from 21st Century Fox Inc.
Hollywood executives famously copy any formula that works, so get ready for more merger mania in 2018.