How much will Star Wars: The Force Awakens make at the box office?
We’ll have the regular Weekend Warrior column up soon, but with Lucasfilm‘s Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out in just two short months and tickets going on sale today, it’s obvious that it’s probably the only movie that anyone really cares about right now. Because of that, a lot of readers may be wondering: What does the Weekend Warrior think this movie will make?
I could make you all wait another two months, but as an early holiday present, I’m going to let you into my thought process on this one, and hopefully it will stay the same between now and December 18. (By the way, this is only the second time I’ve written about “Star Wars” for ComingSoon.net, the first one being my question about whether Lucasfilm/Disney could sustain a new franchise, which you can read here if you missed it.)
Important Note: This article will only be considering and discussing domestic box office numbers only, because it’s too hard to gauge how any movie might do internationally today compared to ten years ago. There are tens of thousands more theaters internationally now and there’s much bigger business overseas because of it.
First of all, we have to take into consideration that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a serious big-time event movie, being that it’s the first new live-action “Star Wars” movie in ten years since 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. In the time since then, there’s been a lot of animated television shows and even an animated movie, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in 2008.
Probably the most excitement about The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams, the mastermind behind the “Star Trek” reboot, is that it’s continuing the story from 1983’s Return of the Jedi, bringing back all the fan-favorite characters from the original trilogy. Getting Harrison Ford, Mark Hammil, Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew to reprise their roles as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewbacca respectively is huge, although there will probably be more focus on the new characters and lesser-known actors who will hopefully keep the torch alive for the continuing franchise. The fact that many of the original characters didn’t even appear in the prequel trilogy was a bit of a sticking point for older fans, and they’ll be excited to see them back on screen for the first time in 30 years.
But let’s look at the box office history for the franchise, because that’s kind of important. The last installment, “Revenge of the Sith,” opened on a Thursday with $50 million and then it made another $108.4 million over the three-day weekend and then grossed $380.3 million, the second-highest grosser in the series. It made $122 million in its first three days which would have made it the highest-opening movie at the time. Because it opened on Thursday, it was only the second-highest opening movie of the time behind Spider-Man. In the ten years since “Revenge of the Sith,” no less than 25 movies have opened higher, but you also have to consider that ticket prices have gone up in the last ten years, and there’s been a lot more movies released in 3D, IMAX and other premium formats. Taking that into consideration, $122 million is pretty fantastic for 2005 and by today’s standards, that probably would be closer to $180 million or more.
Ticket inflation is an interesting factor to the box office that isn’t always taken into consideration. George Lucas’ original Star Wars released in 1977 grossed $307 million (not including numerous re-releases in the nearly 40 years since), but adjusted for inflation, that would be closer to $1.2 billion domestic… which would kick the ass of the current domestic record holder, James Cameron’s Avatar. Without taking into account inflation and re-releases, 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I would still be the highest-grossing installment with $431 million, but that would be $711 million accounting for inflation, which would make it the second-highest grossing movie domestically.
Surprisingly, the single-highest grossing day for any “Star Wars” movie is just $50 million, “Revenge of the Sith’s” opening day, but that single day record has been beaten by 30 other more recent box office hits with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 still holding the single-day record with $91 million. We have to assume that the first “Star Wars” movie in ten years is good for at least a $70 to 75 million opening day, which would be on par with the “Twilight Saga” movies or The Dark Knight Rises, but we also have to take into account inflated ticket prices that come with the movie’s IMAX release. (And then there’s also that crazy seven movie marathon that you know all those ticket sales will be folded into the opening day box office, further exacerbating the weekend front-loading.)
In the last couple of years, the box office has booming for big event movies like this one with Marvel’s The Avengers setting a seemingly unbreakable $207 million opening record three years ago. Its sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, wasn’t able to beat it this past summer (falling short of $200 million), but then a month later Jurassic World opened with $208.8 million and went on to gross $650 million domestically. That amount might not seem very hard to beat for The Force Awakens, considering that the fanbase for “Star Wars” is far more fanatical than that for Jurassic Park, no matter how you slice it.
One important thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that The Force Awakens is opening in December, rather than over the summer, and that needs to be factored in for a number of reasons. School will mostly still be in session, which may limit those who are able to play hooky to go see the movie. More importantly, the movie is opening a week before Christmas at a time when most people are saving money for presents as well as working extra hours to get their work done before the holiday break. Because of this, having time to go to see a movie, no matter how big or exciting it might be, will be at a premium for most people other than diehard moviegoers.
In fact, the highest December opening weekend ever was The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with $84.6 million, but sitting at #3 with $77 million is James Cameron’s Avatar, which went on to gross $750 million to become the highest-domestic grosser ever. The latter is a good example of how movies tend to behave over the holidays, although being the return of a hugely popular franchise (which Avatar wasn’t at the time) means that more people will go out to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens its opening weekend due to anticipation alone.
The more casual moviegoers who don’t go to movies every weekend and those who don’t want to deal with long lines and packed theaters might wait until the holiday break or even afterwards to see “The Force Awakens” once things settle down. So we really have to look at the movie’s opening weekend as if only the diehard fans are going to see it.
Because of the anticipation for the first new “Star Wars” movie in years and the added fanbase and audience that ten years has generated—those who saw the prequels as young kids will now be teenagers who will have their own nostalgia of the franchise while there will be a whole new audience of 8 to 10 year olds who weren’t even born back then. There will also be the fans of the original movies who have become parents who will already be inducting their kids into their fan obsession with all things “Star Wars.” It’s already begun with the amount of early toy sales that have helped to permeate the mainstream zeitgeist to the fact that “Star Wars” is back!
And that brings us to my prediction. Drum roll, please?
At this point, I’m going to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens with $170 to 180 million (with $75 million or more opening day) domestically, which would beat the December opening record by nearly $100 million. One can almost definitely expect it to continue to do very well over the holidays and probably continue doing well into the new year (although two Westerns–Alejandro Inarittu’s The Revenant and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight—will offer some competition for older male audiences in January). Going by past years with other movies that open before Christmas Day (like Avatar), The Force Awakens should be able to build on that opening to surpass the $658 million domestic gross of Titanic, although it probably will fall just behind Avatar, ending up with around $725 million total domestically.
So that’s it. That’s my current prediction, and this might be a good time for you to make your own predictions in the comments section below. I’m sure we’ll reexamine this topic in two months when I write the regular Weekend Warrior column about the movie, but until then, enjoy the new and final trailer!