LOS ANGELES — The Force remains unstoppable as Disney-Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" opened with $45 million on Thursday night.
"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" set a record for the second-largest Thursday night preview gross in North America, trailing only "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which earned $57 million two years ago. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" had been the second-highest with $43 million. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" opened a year ago to $29 million at Thursday night previews.
Previews began Thursday at 6 p.m. in North America — about 12 hours after Disney announced it was spending $52.4 billion to acquire 21st Century Fox assets. On Friday, the film launches at 4,232 theaters in the U.S./Canada, including nearly 410 Imax screens, 640 premium large format, 3,600 3D locations, and 212 D-Box locations.
Early surveys of audience reactions Thursday night by comScore's PostTrack found that 68% rated "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" as "excellent" and another 21% as "very good." A total of 82% said they would "definitely recommend" the film.
Domestic tracking for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" has remained in the $200 million range since Nov. 22, when first estimates emerged. If that figure holds, "The Last Jedi" would be the fourth-biggest opening of all time after "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," "Jurassic World," and "The Avengers."
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" launched with $248 million in its first weekend in 2015 amid massive anticipation for the first "Star Wars" movie in a decade. It wound up its domestic run with a record-setting $936.7 million. "Rogue One," the first Star Wars spinoff, debuted with $155.1 million a year ago on Dec. 16-18 and went on to gross $532.2 million by the end of its domestic run.
Directed by Rian Johnson, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" picks up where "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" left off. It stars returning cast members Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Andy Serkis. The new stars include Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, and Benicio del Toro.
The tentpole has also been pegged for a worldwide opening in the $425 million range, which would give "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" the fifth-biggest global debut of all. Universal's "Fate of the Furious" set that record in April with $541 million, topping "The Force Awakens" by $12 million. "Jurassic World" is third on the list with $525 million, followed by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" with $483 million.
"Christmas comes early for an industry (and audience) that has been patiently waiting for two years for the arrival of the second installment of the latest 'Star Wars' trilogy as 'The Last Jedi' launches in over 4,000 theaters while riding a wave of universal praise from critics, and most importantly, the first patrons to storm the multiplex on Thursday night," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore.
"The film boasts a jaw-dropping level of big-screen sci-fi action thrills, along with enough pathos and human drama to make it one of the most compelling movies of the year and a worthy follow-up to 2015's 'The Force Awakens' that set a new bar for the opening weekend earnings potential of movies released in the month of December," he added.
Fox is counter-programming with its animated family comedy "Ferdinand" — opening at 3,621 locations in North America amid expectations of a $15 million debut. The movie is based on the children's book "The Story of Ferdinand" and directed by Carlos Saldanha, with John Cena voicing the Spanish bull who doesn't want to fight.
"Ferdinand" took in $350,000 from 2,385 locations in Thursday night previews that began at 5 p.m.