It is not only the most anticipated film of the year but probably of the 21st century. This is not hyperbole. 38 years after George Lucas changed the movie industry forever with Star Wars, the baton has been passed to J.J. Abrams with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, out December 18. We’ve seen over a decade pass since the unevenly received second trilogy that ran from 1999-2005. This marked the end of Mr. Lucas’s involvement in the franchise and the end of 20th Century Fox producing the entries (no iconic Fox music before “In a galaxy far, far away” may take a little getting used to).
Instead we have Disney taking over the most beloved franchise in silver screen history and we’ve repeatedly seen their brilliance at marketing blockbusters (think Marvel Cinematic Universe). The Force Awakens has been omnipresent for months and it’s ramped up to the point where every other commercial seems to be connected somehow to it. The official trailers and TV spots have been events. It’s sold $100 million dollars at press time in pre-sale tickets, which was previously an unimaginable haul. With all the exposure, the studio has done a truly remarkable job in keeping plot details under wraps.
We know this: original trilogy stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher return in the iconic roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. A new generation makes up the supporting cast that includes John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, and Domhnall Gleeson. Oh and there’s Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO.
For those of us old enough to remember the breathless anticipation afforded to 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, it’s probably the only thing that compares in the past couple of decades. There are many hotly anticipated blockbusters but Star Wars is simply on a different planet.
So now the nine figure question: how much will The Force Awakens earn its opening weekend? How much is it capable of making? Will its debut set the all time record? Fascinating queries indeed, these are.
We begin with this: the current record holder came out just this summer when Jurassic World earned $208.8 million, which edged out previous champ The Avengers at $207 million. I’m sure Disney would love to get that record back that the dinosaurs took away in June. These are the only two pictures that have made over $200M out of the gate. Both were released in summer, as are seven of the all time top ten domestic premieres.
None came out in December and this is not an inconsequential point. In fact, the current highest December debut belongs to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It made $84 million and that’s good for just the 57th largest opening ever. Truth be told, even massive blockbusters that open in December usually open smaller than they might in the summer. 2009’s Avatar began with $77 million before becoming the biggest stateside grosser ever. The reason is simple: Christmas time releases tend to play well over multiple weekends while similar summer titles make the bulk of their coin immediately.
Let’s dispatch with the glaringly obvious: The Force Awakens will obliterate the December record. At worst, it should double The Hobbit’s initial earnings. Frankly, guessing what Star Wars is capable of is a dicey proposition, but the low end of estimates is around $170-$175 million. If it managed that, it would sincerely be a fine start.
Yet there is a suspicion that Jurassic’s six month long record could be headed for extinction. The combo of Disney hype and a true love across all ages for the series has contributed to an Event Experience we rarely witness. What’s the highest it could go? Honestly, I don’t know. The figure of $300 million has been mentioned. That seems a bit crazy, but you just never know. There’s part of me that believes $275-$280 million might just be reachable and another that feels it could fall short of the record with around $185-$205 million.
What’s a box office predicting blogger to do? Split the difference. With this wide range of possibilities, I’ll project that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will achieve the best American opening ever and by a rather considerable margin. I’ll be one among many speculating over the next ten days before its debut, but my two cents is in, my friends. Let’s see what happens!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opening weekend prediction: $234.7 million
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