The Force, from a galaxy far, far away, rose from its slumber this weekend to assist Disney’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at the box office. Grossing an estimated $238 million in the U.S. and Canada, the seventh installment of the George Lucas-created franchise now holds the record for the largest opening weekend of a film ever.
The box office has not seen a performance like this since Universal’s “Jurassic World” opened in June ($208.8 million) and, prior to that, 2012’s premiere of “Marvel’s The Avengers” from Disney ($207.4 million).
Ahead of the weekend, those familiar with audience tracking surveys predicted an opening weekend of $180 million to $220 million. But by Friday afternoon, those projections began to look increasingly conservative.
Playing in over 4,000 theaters domestically, “Star Wars” began its massive run with a record-breaking $57 million in ticket sales for early Thursday night showings. That far exceeded the previous benchmark of $43.5 million set by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” in July 2011. When Friday numbers were tallied, the official first-day total was an estimated $120.5 million. This gave the J.J. Abrams-directed picture the highest single-day profits on record and it became first film to break the $100-million mark in a single day.
The numbers for “The Force Awakens” are also unprecedented for a film premiering in December. The record holder for the biggest opening during the month was “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which took in $85 million in domestic receipts in 2012.
Audiences gave the new release an A grade, and an A-plus among women and younger audiences, according to polling firm CinemaScore. It also earned a 95% positive rating from critic site Rotten Tomatoes.
Such a showing is on par with the palpable anticipation demonstrated by fans and the movie theater industry ahead of the release. Audiences set a number of records for advance ticket sales on sites like Fandango. The movie racked up more than $100 million in pre-sales by its Thursday night opening. Additionally, when Disney debuted the final theatrical trailer during a “Monday Night Football” game on ESPN that coincided with the tickets going on sale online, the trailer was viewed 128 million times in 24 hours.
The interest of fans led to expectations across the industry that “Star Wars” would drive up ticket sales as October and November box office numbers, compared with last year, are lower. Theater owners set aside huge portions of their auditoriums for the film, with some showings as early as 2 a.m.
Other wide releases also premiering this week included Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” and Universal’s “Sisters.” Neither, however, could come close to the film starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley among others.
The “Star Wars” box office takeover was also supported by some unusual promotions for ticket buyers. AMC Theatres offered new movie posters to people who bought Imax 3D tickets for Sunday showings. High-end chain Cinépolis brought in members of the 501st Legion — a group of enthusiasts dressed in Stormtrooper garb — to take pictures with moviegoers in the lobby.
Disney’s sustained marketing campaign tapped into the nostalgia for the original trilogy and got people talking about the movie via social media. On Twitter, the movie was mentioned roughly 2 million times on Thursday alone, making it the most tweeted-about movie ever, according to social media analytics firm Union Metrics.
Much is at stake for the Walt Disney Co., which, in 2012 paid $4.1 billion for production company Lucasfilm, largely for the “Star Wars” franchise. The big numbers for “The Force Awakens” bode well for the future of the franchise, and not just at the box office. Burbank-based Disney also stands to generate sizable returns across other business segments, including video games, merchandise and theme parks.
It remains to be seen whether “Star Wars” will have a halo effect on the industry and get theater goers to also see other movies. Next week, films including Sony’s “Concussion,” Paramount’s “Daddy’s Home,” Fox’s “Joy” and Warner Bros.’ “Point Break” will hit theaters. Some analysts worry such films could get lost in the shadow of “Star Wars,” though some suggest otherwise as “Star Wars” brought out consumers who haven’t been to a theater in a long time – welcome news to theater owners who have seen their attendance stagnate in recent years.
“You’ve got people coming out who aren’t frequent moviegoers,” said Will Palmer, chief executive of the film marketing analytics firm Movio. “This is reigniting a whole raft of customers who don’t usually go to the movies and have disengaged with the cinema.”
The industry also awaits to see if “Star Wars’” force can help push U.S.-Canada ticket sales to a record $11 billion. The year 2013 was best for the box office at $10.9 billion.
From the Los Angeles Times