Will the movie maintain its success despite the divisive word of mouth?

Obviously, Star Wars: The Last Jedi won the weekend at the box office, grossing $220M domestically. That’s the second-best debut of all time, behind its predecessor, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Accounting for inflation, The Last Jedi does drop to fourth place, however, below The Avengers and Jurassic World. And worldwide, the latest Star Wars episode had the 10th best overseas opening ever, with $230M, giving it the fifth best worldwide bow of all time, with $450M. At the moment, The Last Jedi is already the 10th highest-grossing movie of 2017 and is likely to wind up at number one for the year.

Not bad given all the bad buzz on the movie the last few days. The Last Jedi received mostly rave reviews from critics, as shown by its 93% Rotten Tomatoes score (with an average rating of 8.2 out of 10), yet it also appears to be unpopular with non-professional viewers as evidenced by its 56% Audience Score on the same site (with an average rating of 3.3 out of 5), lower than The Phantom Menace. That’s the eighth-worst gap between scores for a positively-reviewed movie, according to data analysis conducted by Information is Beautiful (this year’s It Comes at Night has the greatest gap), which notes that it’s the biggest movie to have such a discrepancy.

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Rotten Tomatoes users aren’t exactly lining up with audience responses elsewhere, though. The Last Jedi currently has a great user-generated score at IMDb (8.2/10) and decent ratings from Fandango ticket-buyers (4 stars out of 5) and at Letterboxd (3.9 stars out of 5). That’s mostly on par with the Disney era Star Wars movies The Force Awakens and Rogue One, except on Fandango where both earlier installments were marked  a bit higher. Also in line with those two, The Last Jedi received an ‘A’ grade from opening night moviegoers via polling conducted by CinemaScore.

Internet trolls have not only been blamed by for the low Audience Score at Rotten Tomatoes, but at least one has even claimed responsibility by purposely rigging the number with Bot Accounts. The culprit represents a group of anti-Disney trolls who are for the preservation of the now-non-canon Expanded Universe works of the Star Wars brand. He or she also suggests doing the same thing with Disney’s Marvel franchise when next year’s Avengers: Infinity War is released. They also promote pro-DC campaigns, which could possibly account for why Justice League‘s Rotten Tomatoes critic vs. user gap is even larger, the other way, with 40% against 79%. But that movie also has high user ratings elsewhere, too.

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Meanwhile, the backlash against The Last Jedi is definitely a real thing from general audiences, many of them diehard fans of the Star Wars property and many others of the casual sort, too. While the Rotten Tomatoes situation may be caused by trolls, there is negative buzz to be found (mixed with the positive) everywhere from social media to neighborhood chatter. And this kind of word of mouth, which isn’t as easily gauged scientifically, could be a determining factor of whether or not The Last Jedi continues to be a box office smash. The big question is will the movie see enough repeat business compared to previous installments.

So far, bad buzz hasn’t harmed The Last Jedi. Compared to The Force Awakens, the Rian Johnson-helmed chapter had a much greater showing on Friday compared to its Thursday previews (32.9% increase versus The Force Awakens‘ 9%) and had a narrower drop on Saturday (38.9% decrease versus The Force Awakens‘ 42.7%), though it did have a deeper Sunday drop (19.9% decrease versus The Force Awakens‘ 11.3%) for a weekend multiplier of 2.099x (meaning the opening weekend gross is 2.099 times more than the opening day gross). That is actually better than The Force Awakens‘ 2.08x.

Of course, a lot of the opening weekend business for a movie like The Last Jedi is from advance ticket sales, meaning audiences would be ignoring any kind of negative word of mouth because they’d already paid and would have to go and check it out for themselves. We’ll have to see how the movie continues to perform, particularly compared to The Force Awakens, in the next few days and weeks. But that ‘A’ CinemaScore grade is encouraging. Analysis does show that the higher the grade the longer the legs, and ‘A’ movies have an average multiplier of 3.6x, meaning The Last Jedi should at least wind up with a domestic total of $792M.

The last two Star Wars movies did respectively perform better and worse than the average, though. The Force Awakens finished with a multiplier of 3.8x ($248M opening, $937M total) and Rogue One finished with a multiplier of 3.43x ($155M opening, $532M total). The prequels, which all received ‘A-‘ grades via CinemaScore polling, all performed  better than the average multiplier for that mark (3.5x) — The Phantom Menace with an incredible 6.65x, Attack of the Clones with 3.78x, and Revenge of the Sith just barely with 3.51x. If The Last Jedi winds up hurt by bad buzz and performs closer to Rogue One‘s multiplier, it would end its run with a final gross lower than The Phantom Menace, but that’s still very good.

Another result to consider is how the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi will effect the movies to come. Next year’s Solo: A Star Wars story is difficult to predict at the moment given that it’s another spin-off prequel, like Rogue One, yet has a more familiar hero in young Han Solo, but has also been plagued by production problems. The next and concluding episode of the “Skywalker Saga,” however, will arrive in 2019 with something to prove but could now fall behind with moviegoers, particularly the supposedly given-up diehards and the less-interested general audiences.

The main Star Wars series, as divided up into trilogies, has so far taken an interesting course at the box office. The original three movies opened incrementally better with each episode, yet the first installment finished way on top and the third installment finished in second place with the middle movie slightly below the third as lowest of the group (looking at figures adjusted for inflation). The exact same thing happened with the prequel trilogy. If the current movies continue in this manner, Episode IX will open lower than The Last Jedi but will make more overall — and maybe the fact that The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams is returning for that sequel will receive the credit for such success.

In other new release box office news, the animated feature Ferdinand appears to be a bomb with a debut of only $13.3M — understandably because why would you open a kids’ movie opposite Star Wars? Below is the top 10 for the weekend with new titles in bold and current domestic totals in parentheses.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – $220M ($220M)
2. Ferdinand – $13.4M ($13.4M)
3. Coco – $9.9M ($150.7M)
4. Wonder – $5.2M ($109.1M)
5. Justice League – $4.3M ($219.6M)
6. Daddy’s Home 2 – $3.8M ($96.6M)
7. Thor: Ragnarok – $3.1M ($306.5M)
8. The Disaster Artist – $2.7M ($13M)
9. Murder on the Orient Express – $2.5M ($97.3M)
10. Lady Bird – $2.1M ($26M)

All box office data via Box Office Mojo

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