Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Falls Short in China

By Ben Fritz Features Dow Jones Newswires

The Force is weak in China.

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"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" opened to a soft $28.7 million in China this weekend, less than the prior two installments in the series. That signals that Walt Disney Co. hasn't succeeded in its efforts to gain momentum for a prized franchise in the world's second-largest movie market, where it previously wasn't well known.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opened to $52.5 million over two days in 2016 and last year's spinoff "Rogue One" took in $32.4 million on its first three-day weekend.

After the first six "Star Wars" movies went virtually unseen in the previously closed-off Chinese market, Disney pulled out all the stops to try to generate interest in droids, lightsabers and the force, hosting splashy premieres and publicity stunts, commissioning pop songs and building an area to teach visitors to its new Shanghai theme park about the series.

Few expected it would be an instant smash, but the fact that "The Last Jedi" underperformed even last year's "Rogue One," which it is beating in most of the rest of the world, indicates Chinese audiences still aren't taking to the Skywalker saga. The new movie was No. 2 behind the local comedy "The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes."

Disney didn't respond to a request for comment.

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Worldwide, "The Last Jedi" has now grossed just over $1.2 billion, making it the 13th highest grossing film of all time and another massive success for Disney.

Domestically, many in Hollywood were unsure before the film opened Dec. 15 whether it would perform closer to "The Force Awakens," another sequel in the franchise's primary story line but the first new "Star Wars" film in a decade, or last year's spinoff "Rogue One."

The answer has turned out to be somewhere in the middle. After opening to $220 million, close to "The Force Awakens'" $248 million and well above "Rogue One's" $155.1 million, "The Last Jedi" has slowed down.

This weekend it grossed an estimated $23.6 million in the U.S. and Canada. That is barely above the $22.1 million "Rogue One" collected on its fourth weekend in theaters and well behind the $42.4 million "The Force Awakens" grossed.

The disparity could be due to critical opinions by some hard-core "Star Wars" fans of the new movie, despite its strong reviews and an A audience rating from market research firm CinemaScore, or overall less excitement about the third movie in three years.

The No. 1 movie in theaters this weekend was the family comedy "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," which has had a remarkable run since opening the Wednesday before Christmas. Its tickets sales dropped only 28% from last weekend, compared with 55% for "The Last Jedi," as it grossed $36 million. The restart of a franchise last seen in 1995, with new stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, has been a major hit for Sony Pictures Entertainment and has now grossed $514 million world-wide.

The horror sequel "Insidious: The Last Key," produced by Sony with Blumhouse Productions and released domestically by Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures, opened to $29.3 million, a healthy start given its low budget.

Write to Ben Fritz at ben.fritz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 07, 2018 14:06 ET (19:06 GMT)