'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' Tracking for Huge $130M-Plus U.S. Debut

Box Office - Rogue One - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Jonathan Olley/©Lucasfilms
Some tracking services even show the stand-alone movie approaching $150 million in its domestic launch as Lucasfilm and Disney plot a series of titles expanding the 'Star Wars' empire.

The Force remains with Lucasfilm and Disney, according to early tracking.

Stand-alone film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — one of the biggest box-office curiosities of the year — is projected to open to $130-million-plus in North America over the Dec. 16-18 weekend, which would mark the second-biggest December opening of all time behind last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The movie came on tracking Tuesday morning, with one service suggesting it could even approach $150 million. (Conversely, another service has it opening in the high $120-million range, underscoring what a guessing game tracking can be.)

The pre-Christmas corridor isn't known for huge openings, since consumers are distracted by holiday preparations. Prior to Force Awakens, no December film had ever launched north of $85 million, and that includes Avatar.

Directed by Gareth Edwards and starring Felicity Jones, Rogue One is the first in a series of planned stand-alone movies from Lucasfilm extending the Star Wars empire now that the iconic franchise has been been revived on the big screen. Rogue One focuses on the fabled mission hinted at in Star Wars: Episode IV — A  New Hope, i.e., a group of rebels who steal the plans to the Death Star that later end up in the hands of Princess Leia.

The main job for Disney is to manage expectations and prevent Rogue One's box-office performance from being compared to that of Star Wars: The Force Awakens since it's a stand-alone. Force Awakens made history in December 2015 when opening to a record-setting $248 million domestically on its way to grossing $2.07 billion worldwide, the third-best showing of all time behind Avatar and Titanic, not accounting for inflation.

Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams, was no doubt aided by featuring castmembers from George Lucas' first three Star Wars films.

At an investors' conference in September, Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger said Rogue One wasn't expected to match last year's Star Wars reboot: "Yes, the marketing material that we've had out has been extremely well received. We've not ever felt it would do the level that Force Awakens did, but we've been very, very encouraged that the level of interest in this is as high as it was for Force Awakens.”

In terms of social chatter measured by industry leader comScore, Rogue One is outpacing recent tentpoles Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, both from Warner Bros.

If all goes as planned, Rogue One will cap a banner year for Disney, which is widely expected to set a new industry record with more than $7 billion in global ticket sales.