UPDATED WITH OVERSEAS: $185M-$220M opening in the U.S. — that’s where many distributors have Star Wars: The Force Awakens right now, but they’re confident that the Disney film has a very good shot at destroying Jurassic World‘s opening record of $208.8M. Overseas, analysts foresee Star Wars: The Force Awakens easily coming close to Jurassic World‘s $316.7M all-time foreign debut record. All in, to completely beat Jurassic World, the Disney/Lucasfilm title will have to blow-up the Uni film’s global opening title of $525.5M.
At the very least, since the statistical sampling is small for record B.O. openers, Force Awakens will one of the top four openings of all-time at 4,100-plus locations, which is a December record in regards to theater count. Even if the seventh episode in the Star Wars trilogy falls in the mid $100M range, it’s all about the multiple for the studio and the daily business they can do during the two week holiday period. Analysts informed Deadline a few weeks ago that pre-sales would be at $100M at this point in time.
When it comes to that $35M range in Force Awakens’ projection “it’s like predicting the $2M opening swing on a film like Sisters” says one rival distribution chief. One source per their conversation with theater owners –who actually don’t see the film until Wednesday– projects the film will make $500M by the end of the year. In fact, depending on how well Force Awakens does will determine whether 2015 reaches $11B at the domestic box office, surpassing 2013’s year of $10.9B.
Of Disney’s theater count for Force Awakens, 3,300+ will be in 3D locations with an extra boost from 392 IMAX screens (a record number opening for this format; 13 of which are 70mm), 451 Premium Large Format screens and 146 D-Box locations. The fireworks start on Thursday at 7PM. Already, many are predicting Force Awakens to break the preview night box office record of 2011’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2 which made $43.5M. Leading up to Thursday, 135 locations will be playing 24-hour marathons of both Star Wars trilogies. Imax worldwide for Force Awakens will be at an all-time high of 668 theatres. Once China opens in January that figure grows to an awesome 940 venues.
For the competition on Friday, a marathon-versus-sprint attitude also prevails, with many seeing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend as the finale to the holiday stretch since some public schools cease their holiday breaks at that time. 20th Century Fox has Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, the fourth title in the series, which should make $12M in 3,600 locations. There will not be any Thursday night previews. Universal is going after older females with its R-rated raunchy Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Sisters which many feel could hit debut in the mid teens.
Here in the states, rival distributors are baring the brunt that Disney has conquered a bulk of the exhibition space. “Getting into a theater is one thing, requesting a specific auditorium is another. Space is at a premium every Christmas, but with the potential of an unprecedented monster, it sucks a lot of the air up,” say another distribution insider. 12 plexes are a lot easier for a distributor to get their films into than eight plexes which will largely be crowded by Force Awakens. With Disney having the run of the weekend, those older films not performing up to snuff will suffer as exhibitors in larger markets make room for Force Awakens to accommodate for those lines around the block. With most multiplexes playing Force Awakens at 30-40% of their current theater capacity per industry estimates, additional demand, spurred by digital exhibition, could move that share up to 50-60%. However, come Christmas when five wide entries hit –Paramount’s The Big Short and Daddy’s Home, Sony’s Concussion, 20th Century Fox’s Joy, and Warner Bros./Alcon’s Point Break– many expect the theatrical landscape to adjust to the fresh supply.
Disney wants the world to know that tickets are still available for Force Awakens with shows being added around the clock, however, others have noted that premium large format and Imax tickets during prime times could be hard to come by. Even during Jurassic World, not every single theater was filled to its bulk capacity. In fact 500 theaters will do $2K or less for the weekend as overnight/early morning shows remain tough fills. No matter what demands Disney makes on exhibitors in regards to minimum playability and auditorium size, theater owners will respond to the will of the marketplace in regards to audience demand.
iSpotTV reports that Walt Disney/Lucasfilm spent $22.3M placing 21 versions of The Force Awakens trailer in 1,466 time slots across 44 networks, 42% of these being in primetime. The TV ad tracking org also counts 19 Brands that have advertised Force Awakens via 36 co-branded commercials, generating an extra $57.9M in TV ad value for the film. Of the co-branding efforts, $8M are attributed to such spots for brands like Verizon and Subway which ran on ESPN, ABC, ABC Family, Disney, Disney XD & Univision. In sum, $81.7M in estimated media value can be pegged directly to new Star Wars: Episode VII. iSpotTV also tracked that $51.4M has been spent in ads for Star Wars ancillary products like video games, action figures and costumes.
Disney paid $4B for Lucasfilm in 2012, and while that seemed like a risky move for the company per Wall Street analysts, in the months leading up to the opening The Force Awakens, there are some that have changed their tune, believing the studio got away with a bargain: Some project that the next four Star Wars films across film rentals and ancillaries could make as much as $25B in revenue. However, Disney is risking that mass moviegoers will take to Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver); the new characters who will take the franchise into the next generation beyond its classic core principles of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa.
Overseas outlook: Force Awakens lands in France on Wednesday along with some smaller markets, and like the domestic projections, the foreign outlook swerves from a conservative outlook of $250M to outstripping Jurassic World‘s record of $316.7M — and that’s without the $96M that the dinosaurs made from China, where Force Awakens doesn’t open until January 9. Given the unpredictable nature of the pre-holiday box office, even if Force Awakens bottoms out at $208M, that’s a figure on par with the foreign debut of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Pre-sales records have been shattered in such territories as the UK, France and Russia. In the UK, for example, Force Awakens’ opening could go as high as $47M. That would be from midnight Wednesday through Sunday (the official opening is Thursday but the movie is being programmed around the clock). Spectre, this year’s current top opener had a FSS of $31.2M.
In France, Revenge of The Sith is the highest opening weekend of the franchise, selling 2.88M tickets – admissions being the constant barometer in the market. It’s also the only non-French film in the Top 5 of best weekend bows ever. With the French back out at cinemas following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, it’s not unlikely to think Force Awakens will pace even higher. The UK and France have consistently been among the Top 5 markets for the series along with Japan, Germany, Australia, and Italy — with Spain squeaking in once in a while.
Those are all mature markets now and will be expected to play in the same field again. An international exec has said they expect Europe to be bigger than Jurassic World, but “smaller everywhere else.” But growth markets of Russia, Brazil, Mexico and the rest of emerging Latin America are expected to also play big. Notably, countries in the southern hemisphere are on school vacations. Southeast Asia may be the lone holdout that doesn’t give off the biggest of numbers. Awareness is slightly lower there, but again, there are many emerging markets that tend to follow the rest of the world.
Japan, however, has been huge for the franchise in the past — even for the second series that kicked off with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It was the No. 1 ex-U.S. territory for the original Star Wars in 1977 (No. 2 for the 1997 reissue); a close No. 3 behind the Germany and the UK for The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 (also No. 3 for the reissue, but Germany and the UK switched places ahead of it); and No. 2 for Return of The Jedi’s reissue. Japan was No. 1 for all three of the second trilogy: Phantom Menace $110M; Attack Of The Clones $78M; and Revenge of The Sith $82.7M. In total, the movies have made $378.3M there, including reissues, according to Rentrak data. Japan promotion has been huge this time around including a tie-up with All Nippon Airways.
As for China, it should benefit from the huge marketing push that Disney has done over the past several months with everything from hiring teen idol Lu Chan as its official ambassador to putting 500 Stormtroopers on for the trailer debut. We’ll talk more about China in the coming weeks.
The only markets where Force Awakens is not opening are India, Greece and some other smaller plays. Staying out of India has in part to do with local (and global) superstar Shah Rukh Khan debuting his Diwale on December 18. The Force Awakens a week later.
In terms of comps outside Jurassic World, we might go back to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 and its $314M opening offshore. But that was a summer release. It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comps. To find a similar release pattern, we have to go back to Avatar in 2009. But it had an international debut of $164.5M, then increased on a big multiple – Force Awakens will hook into a multiple as well.