Help us, Rey and Finn. You're our only hope.
Hollywood is counting on "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" to help salvage an underwhelming year at the box office, analysts say. The eighth entry in the space saga, due in theaters on Dec. 15, could rake in at least $500 million over the last two weeks of the year, according to some estimates.
"We have a lot of ground to make up and not a lot of time left in the calendar year," said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst at comScore, a media measurement company.
Studio executives also have high hopes for "Thor: Ragnarok," out this weekend, and "Justice League," in theaters Nov. 17. Assuming audiences have not burned out on the seemingly endless cycle of sequels, analysts say, the holiday season superhero epics could help steady the ship.
The film industry is still reeling from the lowest summer box office returns in more than a decade. North American audiences warmed to "Wonder Woman" but largely shunned misbegotten franchise entries like "Transformers: The Last Knight" and "The Mummy." Fortunes brightened in September, with the smash success of the creepy clown flick "It," before cratering all over again in October.
Hollywood pulled in just under $550 million last month, making it the worst October at multiplexes since 2007, according to comScore data. North American ticket receipts were down more than 15 percent over last year.
"Blade Runner 2049," the much-hyped sequel to the 1982 cult classic, fell short of $100 million in domestic ticket sales — bad news for a project believed to cost more than $150 million.
"That was a colossal disappointment," said Karie Bible, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations. "Warner Bros. spent a tremendous amount of money on that film, and when you're spending that much you're expecting it will be huge."
Making matters worse, a string of well-reviewed dramas barely made a dent. The war drama "Thank You for Your Service" and the true-life firefighting tale "Only the Brave" failed to translate solid reviews and Heartland appeal into commercial success.
"Those adult-skewing dramas flatlined," said Jeff Bock, another analyst at Exhibitor Relations. "For that kind of film to succeed, good reviews are not enough, especially with so many high-quality dramas on television. And in a lot of ways, that has pretty much been the story of 2017."
Going into the final eight weeks of the year, the stakes for the industry are unusually high, analysts said.
"Just one movie around Christmas could make or break the entire year," said Dergarabedian, the comScore analyst. And that movie will almost surely be "The Last Jedi," which features the last film role for actress Carrie Fisher, who died in December 2016.
Two years ago, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the first entry in the ongoing sequel trilogy, injected roughly $650 million dollars into the U.S. box office between Dec. 18 and Dec. 31, according to comScore data.