“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” posted the second-biggest December opening weekend ever, validating Walt Disney Co.’s strategy of spinning new stories and characters off the sci-fi classic.
The feature, a prequel to the original 1977 “Star Wars,” collected an estimated $155.1 million in theaters in the U.S. and Canada, ComScore Inc. said in an e-mail Monday. Last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” holds the record for the largest December opening weekend, with $248 million.
The space opera helped push Disney past $7 billion in global sales for the year, a record for the industry, according to a company statement Monday. Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures set the previous high of $6.89 billion in 2015 on the strength of hits like “Furious 7,” “Minions,” and “Jurassic World.”
With “Rogue One,” Disney is testing its ability to expand the “Star Wars” franchise beyond the trilogies created by George Lucas, following the company’s $4 billion takeover of Lucasfilm Ltd. in 2012. Like the strategy Disney applied successfully with its Marvel Entertainment superheroes, the studio is creating a universe of characters and storylines that can be interwoven to create new movies. The pressure on Disney will be to keep fans coming back to theaters for at least four more Star Wars installments.
“This was a much-anticipated weekend,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “With its brands including Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, Disney is creating movies of quality, and the figures show that fans clearly see that.”
“Rogue One” rang up $290.5 million worldwide, Disney said in a statement Sunday. The movie will debut in South Korea on Dec. 28 and China on Jan. 6.
Disney shares rose 1.3 percent to $105.30 at the close in New York. The stock is little changed this year.
The company had estimated that the film’s full opening weekend would generate $140 million to $150 million in the U.S. and Canada. The studio also saw the film bringing in $130 million to $150 million outside those markets.
“It’s doing exactly what it needs to do, what we hoped it would do, and is a great signal for what the stand-alone films might be capable of from a story telling and commercial point going forward,” said Dave Hollis, executive vice president of distribution at Disney.
A stand-alone film like “Rogue One” is designed to “create a way in for the uninitiated,” he said in a telephone interview. “We can bring them along for future films both in and out of the saga, and expand the base of people who would identify themselves as ‘Star Wars’ fans.”
Disney has scheduled “Star Wars: Episode VIII” for December 2017 and another stand-alone movie, about a young Han Solo, for May 2018. Episode IX and another stand-alone film are expected.
Some box office analysts had more aggressive estimates for “Rogue One.” Box Office Mojo put the domestic debut at $166 million, Hollywood Stock Exchange put it at $166 million, and BoxOfficePro.com forecast an opening weekend for the sci-fi feature at $155 million.
In 1977, the first “Star Wars” movie depicts a rebel alliance led by Princess Leia that attempts to destroy the Galactic Empire’s space station, the Death Star, by using stolen plans. “Rogue One” is the story of how they get those plans. Felicity Jones plays reluctant rebel Jyn Erso, whom the rebel alliance drafts to help find out about a weapon of destruction the Empire is building and how to destroy it to save the galaxy.
The movie scored highly with many critics, with 85 percent giving positive reviews, according to aggregator Rottentomatoes.com. The movie is “a tense, well-made spacefaring war movie about a desperate and demoralized band of insurgents standing up against a rising authoritarian regime,” according to NPR critic Chris Kilmek.
“Rogue One” cost $200 million to produce, not including marketing costs, according to Box Office Mojo.
The weekend’s only other new wide release was Warner Bros.’ “Collateral Beauty,” featuring Will Smith and Helen Mirren in a critically panned tale about a New York advertising executive trying to recover from the death of his daughter. It generated $7.1 million in sales, less than the $10.9 million estimate of Hollywood Stock Exchange.