Box Office: 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' Blasts Off With Big $40M in Thursday Previews

Courtesy of Lucasfilm
'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

Episode IX's massive haul is still the lowest of the new trilogy, coming in below 'The Force Awakens' and 'The Last Jedi.'

The final Thursday night box office in Star Wars' Skywalker saga saw Episode IX bring in $40 million at the North American box office.

The movie's preview earnings came in below those of the series' last two installments — The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi — which earned a massive $57 million and $45 million, respectively. While it came in under fellow franchise titles, Episode IX has posted the fifth best preview performance of all time and grossed more than Star Wars standalone Rogue One's $29 million in box office previews.

Rise of Skywalker is tracking for a $170 million to $200 million opening weekend, according to industry experts, with Disney predicting $160 million-plus bow. The franchise installment hits 3,200 screens this weekend, including 415 Imax screens and 850 premium large-format screens.

The Disney and Lucasfilm feature is meant to be the culmination of the nine-film series that began with George Lucas' 1977 original A New Hope, and has received lukewarm reviews from critics, currently sitting at a 57 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

J.J. Abrams returned to the director's chair for the film, which sees Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Finn (John Boyega), as well as Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) battling for the fate of the galaxy.

Also opening in theaters this weekend is Tom Hooper's take on the classic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, starring Judi Dench, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Idris Elba and newcomer Francesca Hayward. The Universal and Amblin project earned $550,000 in previews from 2,500 theaters. The movie is tracking for an opening of $14 million to $17 million.

Elsewhere in Star Wars counterprogramming is Bombshell, which is expanding nationwide this weekend after a limited release that earned a location average of $78,025 from four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The movie took in $335,000 in previews at 1,100 locations. Weekend holdovers include Sony's popular sequel Jumanji: The Next Level.