Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. Image Credit: AP

The Force was a little less strong with ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’. JJ Abrams’ Skywalker finale couldn’t match its recent predecessors on opening weekend, but it still amassed a $175.5 million (Dh644.5 million) debut that ranked as the third largest weekend of the year.

‘The Rise of Skywalker’ came in with worse reviews than any ‘Star Wars’ movie except for 1999’s ‘The Phantom Menace,’ which famously heralded the debut of Jar Jar Binks. ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ has a 57 per cent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, too, were relatively lukewarm to the movie, giving it a B+ CinemaScore.

That response may have muted what could have been a record-setting weekend. While Disney had cautiously estimated about a $165 million opening, analysts had pegged ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ for around $200 million.

‘The Rise of Skywalker’ pulled in $374 million worldwide, according to studio estimates on Sunday. The film was especially lacklustre in China, where all ‘Star Wars’ films have struggled. It grossed $12.1 million in the world’s second largest movie marketplace.

Though it proved divisive with fans, 2017’s ‘Last of the Jedi,’ directed by Rian Johnson, opened with $220 million and ultimately grossed $1.3 billion worldwide. Abrams’ own ‘The Force Awakens’ set a then-record in 2015 with a $248 million debut and sold more than $2 billion in global tickets.

With the coming holiday period, ‘Rise of Skywalker’ is poised to dominate the year’s most lucrative week of moviegoing. Cathleen Taff, distribution chief for Disney, called it a great start.

Such expectations did not await Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cats.’ The much ridiculed big-screen musical, featuring infamous “digital fur technology,” scratched out just $6.5 million in ticket sales, sending Mr Mistoffelees (and Universal Pictures) home licking their wounds.

The $100 million production, featuring an ensemble including Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, James Corden, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen and Taylor Swift, came in behind projections and opened in a distant fourth place. The movie drew an 18 per cent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and a C-plus CinemaScore from audiences.

“Even modest opening in this extraordinary lucrative corridor can prove very kind to films,” said Jim Orr, chief of distribution for Universal. He anticipates the film’s strongest demographic — older moviegoers — will be most available over the holidays. “Our scores from those who are 55 and up are very good and very encouraging.”