With the box office run of Star Wars: The Last Jedi finally coming to an end we can now look back and see if in fact the film lived up to the hype and the standards by which all Star Wars films are held to these day, fairly or unfairly.
Before we continue, itís worth noting only because someone will mention it, box office success or failure doesnít reflect on the quality of a film. This isnít to say that the quality of a film doesnít factor into ticket sales, it does, but this isnít a piece to judge the merits of The Last Jedi, rather to try and look at the ticket sales form a pragmatic point of view.
First, the facts. After being in theatrical release for 126 days (18 weeks), The Last Jedi amassed a North American sum of $620,181,382 million, an international sum of $712,525,070 million, for a worldwide total of $1,332,706,452 billion in ticket sales. Those box office numbers are good enough for 7th all time domestic and 9th all time worldwide and places only behind 2015ís The Force Awakens in the series in all categories. We are not going to fiddle with numbers adjusted for inflation here.
Right away, anytime youíre talking ďall-timeĒ you know youíre in good company are far as receipts are concerned so that right there tells you the movie hit some high marks. And while it doesnít currently hold any all-time records, it has finished second in roughly 20 categories total finishing only behind The Force Awakens in most of them. The point is, the only real competition the film has in several key areas is limited to its own franchise which happens to be one of the highest grossing ever. Folks, when youíre talking numbers this big, certainly when discussing openings and sustaining daily, weekly and monthly grosses, these are mostly uncharted waters so itís tough to come up with a comparable.
As for The Force Awakens, it completed its run with $936,662,225 million in North America, $1,131,561,399 million overseas, for a worldwide total of $2,068,223624 billion. Not to mention 39 or so box office records some of which will stand for a very long time, if not ever. Those numbers are good enough for 1st all-time in North America and 3rd all-time worldwide behind only Avatar ($2.77b) and Titanic ($2.18b)Önot bad.
Was The Last Jedi a disappointment at the box office then? That entirely depends on who your asking, what your expectations were to begin with and how you analyze box office information. A lot of people would have you believe The Last Jedi was a colossal failure at the box office simply because it didnít match the numbers put up by The Force Awakens. That would be awfully near sided however as there were several factors that led to the success of Episode VII, most of which Episode VIII wasnít privy to or didnít qualify for.
The box office projections for The Force Awakens at the time had the film opening to the tune of anywhere from $180 million to $230 million in North America. It would go on to earn $247 million on its opening domestic weekend, compare that to The Last Jedi which opened to $220 million on a projection of around $215 million. Internationally, the story was more or less the same with most experts agreeing on a 23% drop for The Last Jedi overseas. The difference ended up being more than 30% internationally with China being a heavy factor with The Force Awakens performing very well there ($124m) and The Last Jedi managing only $42 million and was chased from the box office early. Underperforming in China is not an indication of a film's quality or success overall, rather in this case it speaks to an ongoing challenge the Star Wars franchise has had in Asian markets for a long time.
So, with projections being already lower than The Force Awakens pre-release and heavier competition in the form of a huge box office surprise, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, The Last Jedi never really had a chance at catching its predecessor. Not to mention it didnít have the surprise or rejuvenation factor that The Force Awakens had going into it. It was the first film after the much-publicized sale of Lucasfilm to Disney and the first Star Wars anything on the big screen since 2005ís Revenge of the Sith. Naturally this had many rubberneckers wondering exactly what a Disney Star Wars film would look like, especially without George Lucas involved. The curiosity factor cannot be understated as many long-time Star Wars fans were eager to erase the sins of the prequel era.
Also, a new generation of Star Wars fans who were introduced to the franchise through the prequels and TV seriesí such as The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels were very consumer friendly and anxious to have a trilogy of their own. Thereís a benefit to being first and The Force Awakens and Lucasfilm clearly took full advantage of having the pole position. If you look at the previous two trilogies, the first entry in each, A New Hope and The Phantom Menace, both have the highest box office of their respective triads. And if history is any indication, The Last Jedi may and most likely will finish third in this new trilogy as the hype for finality aspect of Episode IX should drive ticket sales above Episode VIII.
And while weíre looking at past entries, the North American drop between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi was around 33%. Any guesses what the drops were between Episode IV and Episode V and Episode I and Episode II? If you guess 32% and 30% respectively then youíd be exactly right. And while Attack of the Clones consistently ranks at the bottom of most any Star Wars fanís list, the much beloved Empire Strikes Back is generally accepted as the greatest Star Wars film to date. So, it just goes to show you there are reasons why sequels donít generate the same box office revenue, and it has nothing to do with quality sometimes. And it also clearly shows The Last Jedi is performing exactly where it should, historically.
So, if we agree that historically The Last Jedi never viably stood a chance of catching The Force Awakens at the box office for a myriad of reasons, how does the film compare when you break it down individually? The Last Jedi received larger week to week drops than The Force Awakens did and a portion of that is most certainly due to competition like we mentioned. The Force Awakens, when you look at the weekly actuals, had almost none here at home and abroad. This accounted for smaller weekly drops and allowed it to stick around at the #1 spot (4 weeks) a little longer than The Last Jedi did (2 weeks).
Critically, the two match-up fairly well with The Last Jedi counting a higher Metacritic score of 85 to 81 and both receiving an ďAĒ in the Cinemascore category. But of course, itís the Rotten Tomatoes audience score which everyone pointed to as being the biggest indicator of why some felt the numbers fell short. Iím not getting into how that rating is apparently susceptible to data mining and hacking, just know that the two scores are very far apart with The Last Jediís 47% representing the lowest in the entire franchise. Yes, more than ever the divide between the critics and the fans seemed cavernous and the online battles have been epic but even those that claim to have hated it, obviously would had to have seen it. And some as it turns out, more than once.
And we canít deny the tonal changes that were made by Rian Johnson as he refused to paint by numbers and that put a lot of Star Wars fans out of their comfort zones. Compare that to the much more affable and fan friendly Episode VII which had J.J. Abrams at the helm, who of course was forced to play it a little safer and scratch a few more itches than Johnson who had some room to breath after the success of The Force Awakens. Yes, in the end fan-service will always remain a more profitable strategy than avant-garde but to the tune of exactly how much?
Yes, expectations at the box office these days are approaching a critical mass as new releases such as Avengers: Infinity War will continue to push the bar higher and higher. The days of $500 million being a massive worldwide success now is only a magical number that sometimes guarantees a sequel for studios. And Star Wars is not innocent is this game of reverse box office limbo, as they too have set the mark for others to follow and has since 1977.
It seems utterly ridiculous to call Rian Johnsonís The Last Jedi a box office failure, but many have and continue to do so. Logic says otherwise regardless of your opinions as the film has generated an enormous amount of money for Disney and Lucasfilm and this doesnít even include ancillary revenues such as DVD/Blu-ray sales. For perspective, it just held the top of the digital sales chart for two straight weeks which is the same amount of time The Force Awakens held the top spot for. The Force Awakens would go on to generate over $188 million in DVD/Blu-Ray sales, but those numbers lag about 8 weeks so we won't have The Last Jedi sales stats until later. And which film The Last Jedi bump from the top digital sales spot? Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
And this article isnít to come down on those that didnít enjoy this film rather to just indicate the lesser box office numbers arenít representative of a singular instance. Iíve heard many intelligent and thoughtful arguments during the last 4 months about why folks just couldnít escape certain perceived cinematic and franchise pitfalls. Iím just trying to point out that while the uneven embrace of The Last Jedi may have caused a slight incline in the overall take, there are many explanations why a film makes the money it makes. And sometimes that has nothing to do with you or me.
So, when the conversation about a film's earnings involves the top 4 or 5 movies of all time, all the while not really having a proper benchmark to go by, you cannot by any stretch call this film a failure. The massive appeal and success of The Force Awakens created unreal expectations to begin with and maybe those need to be adjusted, not the box office projections or what we think a film's worth is. You may absolutely despise The Last Jedi, and that of course is perfectly okay, but pointing to box office numbers to prove your point is not. It's just not always that simple.
Till next timeÖMTFBWY.
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5/21 - Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
5/23 - Star Wars 10th Anniversary Convention (1987)
5/23 - Barrie Holland
5/24 - Star Wars Celebration IV (2007)
5/25 - Frank Oz
5/25 - Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope (1977)
5/25 - Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi (1983)
5/27 - Michonne Bourriague
5/27 - Christopher Lee