NEW YORK – "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" rocketed to a debut of $220 million at the North American box office, landing the second-best opening ever and slotting in behind only its predecessor, "The Force Awakens," according to studio estimates Sunday.
The Disney blockbuster became just the fourth film to open above $200 million domestically. Aside from "The Force Awakens" ($248.8 million), the others are "The Avengers" ($207.4 million) and "Jurassic World" ($208.8 million). Accounting for inflation, the debut of 2012's "The Avengers" would rank just ahead of "The Last Jedi."
"The Last Jedi" is off to a similar start overseas, too, with $230 million in international ticket sales, said Disney. That brings its three-day global haul to $450 million.
As anticipated, "The Last Jedi" fell shy of the opening weekend for J.J. Abrams' 2015 franchise reboot, which eventually grossed $2.1 billion worldwide. But the massive debut not only puts "The Last Jedi" in the record books, it singlehandedly brightens what has been a disappointing year for Hollywood. The weekend was far and away the highest grossing of the year.
The opening also gave the Walt Disney Co. the opportunity to flex its muscles on the heels of its deal announced Thursday to purchase 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. As part of the acquisition, Disney will take control of 20th Century Fox, one of Hollywood's six major studios.
Fox, as it happens, was the only studio to open another new wide-release film against "The Last Jedi." Its family film, "Ferdinand," was essentially stampeded by "The Last Jedi," grossing $13.3 million. "Ferdinand" and other upcoming releases will look for more room in the coming weeks, once the "Star Wars" tsunami has waned.
While Abrams' reboot capitalized on a decade's hiatus for "Star Wars," Rian Johnson's sequel didn't have the same luxury of freshness. It follows not only "The Force Awakens," but last year's spinoff, "Rogue One." That release opened with $155.1 million, and ultimately took in a little more than $1 billion globally.
Johnson instead aimed to distinguish "The Last Jedi" by introducing some new tones to George Lucas' space opera. "The Last Jedi" is more irreverent than previous chapters.
The plan has seemed to work. Critics gave Johnson's film a 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences endorsed it, too, with an A CinemaScore.
Signaling its faith in Johnson's course for "Star Wars," Lucasfilm earlier announced that Johnson is developing another trilogy for the franchise, the first of which he'll write and direct. Abrams is set to return to direct Episode IX after he was brought in to replace Colin Trevorrow.