J.J. Abrams to Direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’

Disney and Lucasfilm are turning to a familiar face to take the helm of “Star Wars: Episode IX” following the exit of former director Colin Trevorrow.

J.J. Abrams, who helped reboot the franchise with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” has landed the directing job, Variety has learned. He will also co-write the film with Chris Terrio, according to a press release on StarWars.com.

“With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said in the release.

Disney and Lucasfilm moved quickly to replace Phil Lord and Chris Miller with Ron Howard this summer while the film was still in production. The companies see Abrams as the perfect fit for “Episode IX,” given his proven track record in the “Star Wars” universe.

Trevorrow and Disney could not see eye-to-eye in regards to the script of the last installment in this latest “Star Wars” trilogy, sources say, and decided to part ways before getting further along in pre-production. The plan was to begin production by February 2018, but even if Abrams agreed to come back as director, meeting that start point still seems like a challenge.

Sources say producers already giving talent a heads up that there was a possibility of the shoot pushing two to three months and that once a director was announced the timeline would then be focused on.

While “Force Awakens” broke multiple box office records and “Rogue One” was hit at the box office, Lucasfilm and Disney have still had an issue with directors, dating back to when Tony Gilroy had to step in to shoot a significant amount of footage for “Rogue One” before its release. The studio has also fired Josh Trank from a standalone “Star Wars” pic and moved on from Lord and Miller, even though the film was far from done shooting.

Abrams and Rian Johnson, who helmed “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” had smooth shoots on their respective “Star Wars” productions. Sticking with someone who knows the story — and posed little trouble in production — would make sense. Abrams has also remained close to Kennedy since working on “The Force Awakens.”

Since directing “The Force Awakens,” Abrams has not committed to his next feature gig, mainly producing movies including the next untitled “Cloverfield” film that Julius Onah helmed.

From Variety

Star Wars Sends Disney’s Brand into Hyperdrive

The Walt Disney Company

Every year, leading brand valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance puts thousands of the world’s top brands to the test. They are evaluated to determine which are the most powerful (based on factors such familiarity, loyalty, promotion, marketing investment, staff satisfaction and corporate reputation) and which are most valuable and ranked in the Brand Finance Global 500.

Disney is the world’s most powerful brand. Disney’s strength is founded on its rich history and original creations, however its now dominant position is the result of its many acquisitions and the powerful brands it has brought under its control. ESPN, Pixar, The Muppets and Marvel are all now Disney owned, but perhaps its most important acquisition of all has been Lucasfilm, and thus Star Wars.

Star Wars Episode VII ‘The Force Awakens’ has broken countless box office records, becoming the fastest to take US$1 billion, enjoying the most successful opening weekend ($529 million) and based on its total box office gross of nearly US$2 billion is Disney’s most successful film ever. Meanwhile Star Wars toys have generated over US$700 million.

Brand Finance has estimated the value of the Star Wars brand to be US$10 billion, dwarfing the US$4.05 billion Disney paid for Lucasfilm in 2012. Though this might suggest that Disney engineered a very favourable deal, it has undoubtedly contributed to the growth of the Star Wars brand. Disney is managing to exploit the Star Wars concept both rapidly and sensitively, a difficult feat to pull off. Disney styles itself as ‘the happiest place on Earth’. That has proved true not just for its customers but for investors too.

Prepare to Encounter Star Wars Villain Kylo Ren at Disneyland and Walt Disney World

Kylo Ren

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has become a global phenomenon, and soon guests at Disney Parks will be able to interact with one of the film’s most intriguing new characters, Kylo Ren.

Every day at Disney Parks, you can step into exciting Star Wars experiences such as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, “Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple” and Star Wars Launch Bay, where you can come face to face with some of the greatest heroes and villains of the saga. Soon, a visit to Star Wars Launch Bay at either Disneylandpark or Disney’s Hollywood Studios will transport you to the Star Wars galaxy for an encounter with Kylo Ren on the bridge of his First Order Star Destroyer.

As seen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is a dark warrior with a mysterious past. Ren is strong with the Force and serves as a leader of the First Order, seeking to destroy the New Republic, the Resistance and the legacy of the Jedi.

Star Wars Launch Bay was designed to showcase a variety of Star Wars characters over time. In addition to Kylo Ren, you may also come across a garrison of First Order Stormtroopers or the heroic Wookiee, Chewbacca, holed up in a secret Resistance base.

The portal from Star Wars Launch Bay to Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer opens at Disneyland park and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios next month.

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Crosses $1 Billion in Record Time

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Moviegoers continued to unwrap Disney’s box office holdover “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” over the holiday weekend as the space saga dominated a host of Christmas Day newcomers, including Paramount’s “Daddy’s Home” and 20th Century Fox’s “Joy.”

The latest installment in the “Star Wars” franchise grossed an estimated $153.5 million in the U.S. and Canada in its second weekend, beating the lower end of analyst expectations of $140 million. This drives the J.J. Abrams-directed picture to a to-date domestic gross of $544.5 million.

“The Force Awakens,” which cost an estimated $200 million to produce, debuted last weekend to record domestic ticket sales of $248 million. It also grossed $281 million overseas for a global total of $529 million, topping the previous worldwide debut benchmark set in June by “Jurassic World” ($525 million). This week, with an international estimated gross of $546 million to date, the film became the fastest to surpass $1 billion globally.

From the Los Angeles Times

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Shatters Global Box Office Records

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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” shattered box office records with an estimated $517 million in worldwide ticket sales through Sunday, a staggering debut that re-established the celebrated space saga as a global phenomenon under Walt Disney Co.

The first “Star Wars” film in a decade recorded the biggest domestic opening in Hollywood’s history, collecting $238 million over the weekend in the United States and Canada. It also set records in Britain, Australia, Russia and elsewhere as fans embraced a new chapter in the galactic battle between good and evil.

Thousands joined a mock lightsaber battle in Los Angeles, where an Australian couple married in line for the film. President Obama ended a news conference on Friday saying he needed to head to a White House screening of the movie, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton closed Saturday’s Democratic debate saying, “May the Force be with you.”

“I don’t think ever in the history of movies has their been more hype leading up to release of a film,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. “This is a huge, huge win.”

The film’s financial and critical success mark a victory for Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger’s strategy of acquiring proven brands, including Pixar Animation and comic book powerhouse Marvel, to fuel Disney’s entertainment empire.

Disney purchased “Star Wars” producer Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012 as part of his bet on big-budget films.

Movie theater attendance in the United States and Canada, the world’s largest film market, has barely changed in a decade as online and mobile platforms exploded. Subscribers to Disney’s sports powerhouse, ESPN, have shrunk, a much-noted sign of pressure on traditional media. The turnout for “Star Wars” is an encouraging result for Disney, rival media companies and movie theaters.

“We have so many options for entertainment, yet look at where everyone is flocking this weekend – to the multiplex,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at box office tracking firm Rentrak. “Disney has this down to a science.”

Global sales for “Force Awakens” finished second only to the dinosaur film “Jurassic World,” which in its June opening garnered $525 million worldwide, including China, where the “Star Wars” film will not open for weeks. “Jurassic World” took $208.8 million at domestic theaters in its first weekend.

“Force Awakens” is the seventh installment in the epic science-fiction franchise created by George Lucas in 1977.

Filmgoers reveled in the return to the “Star Wars” galaxy, dressing as Jedi or Sith, carrying lightsabers and cheering when classic characters such as Princess Leia or Chewbacca appeared on screen. Theaters added showtimes to meet demand.

Disney plans four “Star Wars” movies through 2019, plus major expansions at its U.S. theme parks to incorporate the droids, spaceships and otherworldly creatures of the universe Lucas invented. “Force Awakens” toys, clothing, home accessories and video games already pervade stores ahead of Christmas.

A Reuters Breakingviews analysis last week calculated that Disney may be on track to triple its Lucasfilm investment and earn an average of $669 million off the franchise in each of the next six years.

Nostalgia, plus a carefully planned, months-long release of film trailers and character profiles boosted interest. Disney, which spent more than $200 million to make “Force Awakens,” also created intrigue by keeping the plot largely secret.

Critics lauded the movie’s throwback feel, doses of humor and the performances of newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. Audiences awarded an “A” grade in polling by survey firm CinemaScore.

Disney took steps to attract more women and girls to the series, including casting Ridley as the star and running commercials during shows such as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Forty-two percent of the weekend’s domestic audience was female, Disney said.

“Force Awakens” could become the highest-grossing movie of all time, box office analysts said. “Avatar” holds that title with $2.8 billion in global sales.

The wild card is China, the world’s second-largest movie market, where “Force Awakens” opens Jan. 9. The last “Star Wars” movie in 2005 collected just $9 million there. Disney made an effort to build buzz, placing 500 miniature Stormtroopers at the Great Wall and striking a deal to stream the six earlier “Star Wars” films through video service Tencent.

The Force is Strong with this One….’Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Holds Record for Largest Opening Weekend

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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

The Force Awakens’ Grosses an Amazing $120.5 Million on Opening Day

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Standing next to his wife, who was decked out in a R2-D2 hoodie, Chris Barreno, 36, was getting ready Saturday for his second viewing of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at the ArcLight Cinemas in El Segundo.

The Long Beach accountant, his wife, Monique Matta, and her extended family were among the legions of fans decked out in their “Star Wars” gear and novelty 3-D glasses for the seventh installment of the film, which has already amassed recording-breaking box-office numbers and further bolstered the newest release of the beloved sci-fi series.

J.J. Abrams’ highly anticipated take on George Lucas’ franchise collected an estimated $120.5 million in its first day, including $57 million for Thursday night preview shows, making it the highest single day on record, according to Walt Disney Co. The tally topped the previous record holder, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” which grossed $91 million from its Thursday and Friday shows in July 2011. The film has already grossed more than $250 million worldwide.

“It far exceeded my expectations,” said Barreno, a fan of the space saga since he saw “The Empire Strikes Back” when he was 2. He noted that he and his wife were looking to parse out more details they might have missed upon first seeing the new film.

“You go into it cautiously optimistic, hopeful that they make a good movie, and with the new cast and characters they really did a good job. It’s one of the better ones … and it gives you something to look forward to for the next few movies.”

The numbers for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” are unprecedented for a film premiering in December. The record holder for the biggest opening during the month is “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which took in $85 million in domestic receipts in 2012.

Audience polling firm CinemaScore gave the new release an A grade, including an A-plus among women and younger audiences. It also earned a 95% fresh rating from RottenTomatoes.

The space opera, which mixes old veterans with new faces and sees the evil Empire replaced by the even more evil First Order, opened wide domestically on Thursday at 7 p.m., showing in 4,134 theaters, a December record in and of itself.

“The Force Awakens” is expected to gross $180 million to $220 million through Sunday in its domestic opening weekend. However, those numbers began to look like conservative estimates following Thursday and Friday screenings.

At that rate, the long-awaited space epic is poised to out-earn Universal’s dino reboot, “Jurassic World,” which broke the record for the biggest domestic opening by selling $208.8 million in tickets last June.

And while many analysts expected the film to collect $1.5 billion to $2 billion globally, “The Force Awakens” is now predicted to gross $2.6 billion worldwide. That would make it the second-highest grossing picture of all time, trailing only 2009’s “Avatar,” which took in $2.8 billion worldwide.

The film began its international rollout on Wednesday and has grossed an additional $130 million internationally so far, bringing its global cumulative box office to $250 million. That was in part thanks to record-breaking opening-day sales in Britain, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Spain and Japan. It debuted in 12 countries on Wednesday and an additional 32 on Thursday. The movie won’t debut in China, the second-largest film market, until Jan. 9

As expected, “The Force Awakens” dwarfed the weekend’s other new releases, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s buddy comedy “Sisters” and the live-action animated sequel “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip,” which grossed an estimated $4.9 million and $4.1 million, respectively, according to Box Office Mojo. Incidentally, both films included famous “Star Wars” touchstones in their own marketing campaigns. The weekend’s other new release, Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” was only shown in three theaters. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” dropped to $1.55 million in its fourth week and has grossed $250.3 million since its November release.

Lucas’ original six-film series posted $4.4 billion in worldwide gross, with the “Revenge of the Sith” — the sixth installment — hitting theaters back in 2005. So far, the highest grosser in the franchise was Lucasfilm’s 1999 release “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” with $1.02 billion worldwide. 

Disney put up $4 billion to buy Lucasfilm, the original “Star Wars” studio, in 2012 and it was a smart move. After “The Force Awakens,” the studio will roll out four more films over the next four years and the revenue they generate could top $25 billion over the next five years, based on analyst estimates. Despite the record-breaking tally, shares of Disney were down more than 3% on Wall Street on Friday.

From the Los Angeles Times

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Smashes ‘Harry Potter’ Thursday Box Office Record

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“Star Wars” fans were out in full force Thursday night.

The long-awaited seventh film in the space saga — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — collected a record-smashing $57 million in ticket sales Thursday night in the United States and Canada.

That tops the previous record holder, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” which grossed $43.5 million from Thursday shows in July 2011.

Box office analysts went into the weekend expecting the new “Star Wars” from director J.J. Abrams to gross $180 million to $220 million through Sunday in its domestic opening weekend.

It remains to be seen if “The Force Awakens” will top the record $209 million that “Jurassic World” opened with in June.

Lines stretched around the block between Thursday showings of “The Force Awakens” at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Pre-sales for the movie hit a staggering $100 million.

The film began its international rollout Wednesday and has grossed $72.7 million overseas so far, bringing its global cumulative box office to $130 million.

From the Los Angeles Times

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Opening Night Event Planned for Disney Springs AMC Theater

Star Wars Force Awakens

Are you counting down the days to the opening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”?

Today Disney is sharing details of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Opening Night Event, a special ticketed event that’s planned for Thursday, December 17 at the Walt Disney World Resort for those who want to be among the first to see the new film and celebrate with fellow fans.

Starting at AMC Disney Springs 24 between 7 and 8 p.m., guests of the Opening Night Event will have a confirmed seat at the first few public showings of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and then enjoy a private after-hours party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios until 2 a.m. The party will include access to the new Star Wars Launch Bay exhibit, the Star Tours – The Adventures Continue attraction, and a DJ dance party. The night will be highlighted with the preview of a new fireworks spectacular set to the iconic “Star Wars” score. Event attendees will also get a commemorative souvenir event ticket. Guests of the Event are encouraged to come dressed in costume showing allegiance to the light side or dark side of the Force. Please see the Costume Guidelines in the FAQs.

The newest “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer will debut in ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” Monday, October 19, during halftime of the National Football League (NFL) game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. Tune in to ESPN to watch the premiere of the final trailer or join your fellow Star Wars fans at Downtown Disney District at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA to watch the trailer on a giant screen outside AMC Downtown Disney 12 theatres. The fun begins at 5:00 p.m. counting down to the trailer release.

Following the trailer launch, tickets to the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Opening Night Event will be on sale. For tickets to the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Opening Night Event at Walt Disney World Resort, visit amctheatres.com/starwarswdw to purchase.

Bob Iger Says ‘Star Wars’ Rollout Plan “Extremely Deliberate”

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From the Hollywood Reporter

Star Wars fans seeking clues as to what Disney has in store for the lead-up to the next film installment were treated to a slew of them Tuesday courtesy of Disney CEO Bob Iger, though details remain intentionally murky.

“We’ve already got some increased product in the marketplace, but the real ramp-up from the consumer-products perspective won’t come until just a few months prior to the release,” Iger said during a conference call to discuss quarterly earnings.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is due out Dec. 18, and Disney says that, at midnight on Sept. 4 — dubbed “Force Friday” — stores worldwide will begin selling products related to the film, including lightsabers, action figures and Lego sets. Disney also confirmed Tuesday that the next iteration of its Infinity video game-toy hybrid will feature Star Wars characters.

Electronic Arts also has Star Wars Battlefront due in November.

“You can expect that there will be more game-related activity between now and the release,” said Iger.

Those hoping for an all-out blitz of merchandise, online trailers and various forms of manufactured hype between now and the release date, though, will be disappointed, as Iger says he worries about oversaturation.

“Generally speaking, you’re going to see us release, in a very careful way, certain elements of the film as part of a carefully designed marketing plan as we get much closer to the film,” said the CEO.

“This is already a very strong franchise, but a film has not been released in 10 years,” said Iger. “We’re not treating this as something that is brand new. We’re mindful of the fact that there’s a whole generation of people out there that were not as steeped in the Star Wars lore and not as in love with the franchise as an older generation.”

Star Wars definitely will play a bigger role at theme parks, too, though much of what’s being bandied about likely will appear after the movie opens, according to insiders.

“We have a huge opportunity there,” said Iger. “We’ve had single attractions, Star Tours, in multiple places around the world … and some Jedi training-academy related shows here and there, but the opportunity here in the U.S. and around the world is tremendous, and we’re doing some development work on it.”

Iger even acknowledged thinking about a Disney streaming service, perhaps something akin to the recently launched CBS All Access product, and he said Star Wars could play a role there, too.

“With these channels and these brands — ESPN, ABC, Disney, maybe even down the road something related to Star Wars and Marvel — we do have the ability as a company to take product, specifically filmed entertainment, telvision, movies, directly to consumers, and we got some development underway to do just that,” he said.

Iger boasted that the second Force Awakens teaser trailer released online garnered 80 million views in the first 24 hours and “hundreds of millions since. Quite amazing.”

Not that he needed confirmation, but research firm Amobee Brand Intelligence said Tuesday that there was 197 percent more digital consumption around the franchise on May 4 — “Star Wars Day” (May the fourth be with you.) — than there was for Avengers: Age of Ultron the day it opened, May 1.

Star Wars is part of the national cultural identity in a way where online interest far exceeds other popular movie franchises,” concluded Amobee.

The research firm said 54 brands engaged in Star Wars Day, including Amazon, Miller Lite, Subway and Volkswagen.

“Considering Age of Ultron has already made [$643.5] million globally, when the new Star Warsmovie is released in December, it will probably make enough money to fund a third Death Star,” said Amobee.

“There are markets around the world that weren’t as developed back 10 years ago,” noted Iger. “China is probably the best example. It’s now the No. 2 movie market in the world. Obviously, when the last Star Wars film released, it was barely a market from a movie perspective.”

“We are managing all this with great care,” continued Iger. “We are mindful of the fact that we need to market this and go after this new generation and new territories. We also want to be careful that the demand does not create almost too much in the marketplace too soon.

“And so, everything we have done to date has been extremely deliberate, and we have a carefully constructed and deliberate plan going forward in terms of what we roll out in the marketplace in terms of product and marketing.”

Iger concluded with: “We’ve got something here that is very, very special.”