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Star Wars’ Path to Avatar’s Three Titanic Records

December 15th, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Its Tuesday the 15th and you know what that means? It’s just a week away from the Steam Winter Sale!!! ... Also, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in just over 48 hours. Today we look at just how big The Force Awakens can be. Can it become the biggest hit of all time? If so, what path would it have to take to get there?

The three biggest records Star Wars: The Force Awakens is aiming for are the all-time domestic, international, and worldwide box office totals. At the moment, all three are owned by Avatar, which came out this time in 2009, a.k.a., the last time Christmas Day landed on a Friday. That will certainly have an effect at the box office next week, but it could also be a good omen for this film’s chances at cracking those records. If it does, what can we expect along the way? What could a record-breaking run look like?

First of all, there is some bad news for The Force Awakens. Despite early reports of an opening theater count of 4,500, which would have been the record, last week’s estimate was at just 3,900 theaters. That has now grown to 4,100, but it’s still far below the record. So why so few theaters (comparatively)? Apparently Disney has been rejecting theaters that are not up to their standards. George Lucas did the same thing with the prequels, so that’s not too surprising, but it will make reaching the opening day and opening weekend records harder. The opening day record seems more likely to fall, as there are reports of some theaters showing The Force Awakens, and only The Force Awakens, for the first full day. Not every theater is going to do that, but enough are giving the film preferential treatment that a $100 million opening day and a $250 million opening weekend isn’t out of the question.

Due to the fact that Christmas Day is landing on a Friday this year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens could have really strong legs throughout December. For instance, Avatar had the same benefit back in 2009 and it dipped just 2% during its second weekend. Granted, it didn’t have the hype The Force Awakens has. (Arguably no film has had the hype The Force Awakens has.) Additionally, Avatar was a 3D film back in the day when there were not a lot of those films in theaters. Even so, we could see a $225 million opening, followed by a $170 million sophomore stint and then a $125 million New Year’s Eve weekend. That would put The Force Awakens within $100 million of the all-time domestic record by the time 2016 starts. Given the lack of competition through most of January, it would finish north of $800 million.

That’s the high end of the domestic run for Star Wars. Its global opening is predicted to be anywhere from $500 million, which is just below the current record, to $650 million. You have to remember that this figure doesn’t include China, where it doesn’t open until (Chinese) New Year. An opening weekend of $400 million internationally should turn into $1.8 billion in the end, plus the $400 million the film is expected to earn in China, equals $2.2 billion internationally and $3 billion worldwide.

I’m not saying Star Wars will earn $3 billion worldwide, but that is the high end of its potential. And if that happens, someone is going to lose their job. Not at Disney, obviously, but every other major studio is going to have a discussion about how they let Disney buy both Marvel and Lucasfilm.

So that’s how The Force Awakens could end up being the biggest film of all time. But what does the lower end of the spectrum look like?

The lower end starts with disappointing reviews. Anything lower than 75% positive will be talked about as a miss. Anything lower than 60% positive and people will be bringing up Jar Jar Binks. The opening weekend will still be strong, because of all of the pre-sales, which already top $100 million, so a three-day total of $150 million will happen no matter what. Weak reviews will hurt its legs, sort of like what happened with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A 33% drop off on Christmas weekend followed by a 25% drop-off New Year’s Day weekend would put its on pace for just under $500 million. International markets would be hit a little worse, because they tend to have stronger legs, meaning word-of-mouth has more time to take effect. This would give the film a worldwide total of $1.5 billion.

Two points.

  1. If the The Force Awakens earned $1.5 billion worldwide, it would the sixth biggest hit of all-time and it would still be a disappointment.
  2. I read today that the film might need to earn $1.5 billion worldwide just to break even. That takes into account the movie production budget, marketing budget, and the cost of Lucasfilm amortized over the six films planned. $1.5 billion, just to break even... I’ll let that sink in for a bit.
As for the most likely scenario, I’m not bullish about the Star Wars’ chances to topple Avatar. That film had the perfect release date in terms of how much 3D films were able to draw in moviegoers over and over again. I put the odds of that happening at 25%. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it. On the other hand, the film has roughly a 50/50 chance to overtake Jurassic World domestically and Furious 7 internationally to become the undisputed biggest hit of the year. However, my opinion might change when the review embargo lifts at midnight.

Related articles:
- Six Records Star Wars is Certain to Break
- Eight Records Star Wars Needs to Break

Related pages: - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- Star Wars franchise history
- All-Time Domestic Box Office
- All-Time Domestic Inflation-Adjusted Box Office
- All-Time International Box Office
- All-Time Worldwide Box Office
- Theatrical Records

Filed under: Analysis, Avatar, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens, Star Wars, George Lucas