At this pace, the final title in the 42-year-old Skywalker saga will come in behind the last installment, ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi.’

J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker could gross as much as $90 million Friday for a domestic box office debut of $185 million or more, according to early matinee returns.

Disney and Lucasfilm are being cautious in suggesting $175 million to $185 million for the weekend.

Not even The Force may be immune to some sequel fatigue. Two years ago, Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi — which divided fans — opened to $220 million domestically, while Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted to a then-record $248 million in 2015.

Nevertheless, $185 million would be a huge number for the weekend before Christmas (Jedi and Force Awakens opened in mid-December). Friday’s haul will include $40 million in Thursday previews. Overseas, the Disney and Lucasfilm tentpole took in more than $58 million Wednesday and Thursday.

Heading into the weekend, Hollywood’s leading tracking service had Star Wars opening to $175 million domestically. Disney was even more conservative in predicting $160 million-plus.

Movies launching just before the holiday can enjoy unusually strong multiples during the final two weeks of the year, putting less pressure on the opening number. (That’s the hope, anyway.)

That adage will hold especially true for Tom Hooper’s Cats and Jay Roach’s Bombshell, both of which are opening opposite Skywalker.

Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker delivered $40 million from Thursday evening previews, serving as the fifth largest preview gross ever. The performance comes in $5 million behind the $45 million preview gross for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which went on to deliver a $220 million three-day domestic debut. A breakdown of preview showings for the previous two entries in the Skywalker saga are below.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • Thursday Previews: $57 Million (47.8% of Friday Gross)
  • Friday Gross: $119.1 Million (48% of Weekend Gross)
  • Weekend Gross: $247.9 Million

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

  • Thursday Previews: $45 Million (42.9% of Friday Gross)
  • Friday Gross: $104.68 Million (47.5% of Weekend Gross)
  • Weekend Gross: $220 Million

In addition to its domestic launch, The Rise of Skywalker is now open in 46 international markets and after two days has brought in $59.1 million with the UK serving as the largest performance yet, bringing in $8.3 million on its opening day followed by Germany ($7.2m), France ($5.3m), Australia ($4.3m), China ($3.6m), Mexico ($2.4m), Brazil ($2.2m), Italy ($2.1m), Sweden ($2.0m), Norway ($1.5m), Russia ($1.4m) and Denmark ($1.3m).

Universal and Working Title’s Cats — which has been ravaged by critics — may have trouble clawing its way to a $10 million domestic debut, while Lionsgate’s Bombshell could also come in slightly behind expectations with a projected $6 million to $7 million in its nationwide expansion.

Hooper’s big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical had been tracking to open to $14 million to $17 million. The film, rated PG, hopes to be the choice for families as the holidays get underway. (Two years ago, The Greatest Showman bowed to $8.8 million over Christmas on its way to grossing $174.3 million domestically.)

Bombshell opened last weekend to a stellar location average of $78,025 from four theaters in New York and Los Angeles for Lionsgate. The Fox News drama stars Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie.

Of the three movies, Bombshell boasts the best Rotten Tomatoes score (66 percent), followed by 58 percent for Star Wars and a bleak 19 percent for Cats.

WEEKEND PREVIEW: The year will soon be coming to a close, but not before Disney and Star Wars have their say as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker debuts this weekend, sights set on a strong debut, though it does have some high quality competition in the family sector with Jumanji: The Next Level entering its second weekend following a strong debut last week. This week also sees Universal’s release of their adaptation of the stage play Cats while Lionsgate expands the release of Bombshell nationwide.

Entering the weekend, Disney is anticipating a $160+ million opening for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which would make this the only film in the new trilogy to not debut over $200 million in its first three days. Previously The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi opened with $248 and $220 million respectively, ranking among the top five domestic openings of all-time. Franchise spin-off, Rogue One also debuted in December and delivered a $155 million opening. The biggest question here is where the overall audience sentiment stands following the fevered anticipation for The Force Awakens four years ago to the muted response to Solo, just last year. Rise of Skywalker is unlikely to suffer from any kind of franchise fatigue as it serves as the end of the now 42-year-old Skywalker saga and the last chapter in this newest trilogy, which has relaunched Star Wars into the current zeitgeist.

A look at IMDb page views has shown Rise of Skywalker trailing the last three December Star Wars releases over the two weeks leading up to release. That said, given the timing, even if the film were to debut as low as the studio’s $160 million expectations, the fact Christmas falls two days later puts the likelihood of a massive five-day debut very high. Right now we’re going out with a forecast right at $215 million and wouldn’t be surprised to see a performance just below or much higher than that as it has seen serious growth in IMDb page views over the last few days. Don’t expect the mixed-to-negative reviews — 58% on RottenTomatoes and 53 on Metacritic — to have any kind of real impact on the film’s first two-plus weeks, though it could prove a sign of the film’s overall domestic returns should audiences agree.

Internationally, Rise of Skywalker debuts day-and-date in all territories except Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines where it will begin playing in early January. The film began playing yesterday in several markets including France, Germany and Italy as well as early previews in China, which will continue to play through Thursday on to the film’s opening day on Friday (leading one to question just when exactly a film is considered to be “in release”). To that point, Rise of Skywalker will have its first official domestic previews on Thursday, though nine-film fan events, screening all nine Star Wars films back-to-back-to-back began on Wednesday with official previews of the film beginning around 6PM on Thursday.

Sony’s Jumanji: The Next Level will slip to second in its sophomore frame after a nearly, $60 million launch last weekend, though just how much it’s going to “slip” is a big question. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle debuted on a Wednesday two years ago, and over its first official weekend it brought in just over $36 million. However, over its second weekend, it saw a +38% increase as it began its run to a $400+ million domestic performance. It would be unfair to expect a similar performance from the sequel, though a ~25% drop similar to its predecessor’s third and fourth weekends wouldn’t be surprising. For now we’re anticipating a drop around -29% and a $42 million three-day performance, pushing the film’s domestic cume to $120 million if not more should it outperform our forecast.

It looks as if it could be a tight race for third, mostly depending on how Universal’s Cats performs as Disney’s Frozen II continues its impressive run this weekend. We’re anticipating a dip around -22% and a three-day nearing $15 million as the film’s domestic cume should be topping $400 million within the next week. Question is, can Cats outperform that figure?

Universal’s adaptation of the stage musical Cats is the weekend’s other new wide release, debuting in over 3,300 locations. Response to the film’s marketing has been mixed ever since the vision of the CG-altered, feline performances of the film’s all star cast was first glimpsed and the first reviews are not favorable while a look at IMDb page view performance presents slightly conflicting information.

Right now, Cats is pacing similarly to previous December releases of The Greatest Showman and Mary Poppins Returns. Between the two, Cats trails Greatest Showman while currently edging out Mary Poppins. Of course, this isn’t entirely a surprise given Poppins was a sequel people would be slightly more familiar with, but what is most conflicting is the opening weekend gap between the two films, not to mention the overall longevity of their domestic runs. Both opened on a Wednesday and while Poppins delivered over $32 million in its first five days, Greatest Showman brought in just $13.4 million. Yet, Greatest Showman went on to gross over $83 million more than Poppins. Then, looking at films such as Into the Woods and 2012’s Les Miserables doesn’t provide any clearer a picture given their Thursday and Tuesday openings respectively.

All in all, while there does seem to be evidence of audience curiosity toward the film, it’s difficult to discern whether that curiosity will turn into genuine interest. The negative reviews certainly don’t bode well for the film’s legs and are a big reason why we’re not expecting anything higher than $15 million this weekend and going out with a $14 million forecast, feeling even that might be a little aggressive.

Internationally, Cats will also open in the U.K. & Ireland this weekend, expanding the following week in 42 markets including France, Australia, Germany, Korea and Mexico continuing on through February.

Rounding out the top five we find Lionsgate with their expansion of Bombshell, which debuted in four locations last weekend and will expand into over 1,450 theaters this weekend with the studio anticipating a performance in the high single digit millions. We’ve been looking at comps to films such as Molly’s Game and The Big Short for guidance and it’s lining up with studio expectations as we expect to see a $7+ million three-day. A difficulty with the majority of comps around this time, especially when looking at the expansion of limited releases is where exactly Christmas falls. For Molly’s Game, it debuted in limited release on Christmas Day, which fell on a Monday while The Big Short hit limited release on December 11 going wide on Wednesday, December 23. That factored in, along with positive audience response to last weekend’s limited release; 95% audience score on RottenTomatoes; means results on this one could vary as we head toward Christmas Day on Tuesday.

This weekend’s forecast is directly below. This post will be updated on Friday morning with Thursday night preview results followed by Friday estimates on Saturday morning, and a complete weekend recap on Sunday morning.

  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (4,406 theaters) – $215.0 M
  • Jumanji: The Next Level (4,227 theaters) – $42.0 M
  • Frozen II (3,665 theaters) – $14.9 M
  • Cats (3,380 theaters) – $14.0 M
  • Bombshell (1,480 theaters) – $7.0 M
  • Knives Out (2,535 theaters) – $6.2 M
  • Richard Jewell (2,502 theaters) – $2.6 M
  • Ford v Ferrari (1,433 theaters) – $2.5 M
  • Queen & Slim (1,077 theaters) – $1.8 M
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (1,524 theaters) – $1.6 M