By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Star Wars" movie "The Rise of Skywalker" blasted into theaters with $374 million in global ticket sales over the weekend as fans rushed to see the final chapter in the long-running film saga, distributor Walt Disney Co said on Sunday.
The massive ticket sales show "Star Wars" remains one of the premiere Hollywood franchises able to draw big crowds to theaters, but the results also fell short of the prior films in the current trilogy. The 2015 movie "The Force Awakens opened with $517 million domestically and 2017's "The Last Jedi" had a $450 million global debut.
Roughly $176 million of the total for "Rise of Skywalker" came from the United States and Canada, ranking as the 12th-biggest opening of all time, and the third biggest in December, in the world's largest film market.
"That's a great number for December," said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. "This is a huge franchise. It's got fans in every corner of the world."
But, Bock added, "that's a 20% decline (domestically) from the last installment. That's a cause for concern no matter how big your franchise is."
Directed by J.J. Abrams, the new movie concludes a story begun by George Lucas in 1977 and centered around a young hero named Luke Skywalker. The latest episode, the ninth in the series, stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac as a trio taking up the fight against evil in the galaxy.
Critics have been divided on "Rise of Skywalker," with detractors saying the plot was convoluted and unimaginative.
But many fans have embraced the latest chapter. About 86% of "Rise of Skywalker" ticket buyers surveyed by website Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie positive reviews.
Moviegoers arrived at theaters dressed as favorite characters from scavenger heroine Rey to furry warrior Chewbacca. Some attended 24-hour marathon screenings of the previous eight films leading up to "Rise of Skywalker."
Cathleen Taff, Disney's head of theatrical distribution, said the company was pleased with initial sales and would judge the movie based on its entire run. The film is expected to attract families who are off from work over the Christmas and New Year's holidays.
"We think it's a great start heading into these first couple weeks where we have the added benefit of holiday play," she said.
Disney is putting future "Star Wars" movies on hold while the company decides where to take the franchise. Its next "Star Wars" movie is scheduled for release in December 2022.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Paul Simao)