Chinese Star Wars The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens landed in China today, its first full day of wide release there and the last offshore territory for Disney/Lucasfilm’s continuation of the space saga. Disney is estimating the gross at around $33M which would be the studio’s biggest-ever opening day in the market, as well as the highest Saturday start in industry history.

Comparatively, Jurassic World opened on a June Wednesday in China last year with $17.24M. At the time, that made it the third foreign film ever to cross 100M yuan on its first day (where the opening was not a weekend or national holiday). TFA‘s estimated Middle Kingdom bow is equivalent to 217.5M yuan. JW went on to about $229M locally. With regard to Avatar, it ultimately grossed about $210M in 2010.

Separately, local research firm Ent Group reported TFA had $2.88M in previews on Friday night, good for approximately $565 per screening out of roughly 5,100 total. That landed it No. 4 for the day. We need to be cautious with early local reports, but let’s look at those averages. The No. 1 movie on Friday, the holdover of local blackout pic Detective Chinatown, was said to add $5.09M at a per-screening average of about $129.

The global cume on TFA, as of the full-day Thursday, was $1,591.7M. The China figure alone pushes that to over $1.625B putting it within less than $50M of Jurassic World‘s $1.67B and the No. 3 all-time worldwide ranking. And that’s not counting Friday’s global grosses which we will have tomorrow.

Disney has pulled the stops out in China and this is seen as a key play in pushing the offshore gross over $1B. It was $821.3M through Thursday, so now is well over $850M.

Star Wars The Force Awakens on the Great Wall Photo-4While China’s piracy problem is well-known, the lead-up time to TFA‘s PROC release was a plus for Disney. It has enabled the studio to re-establish the brand there. Star Wars traditionally hasn’t resonated there given the timing of the last six films. The first three (Episodes IV-VI) were never released in China, while Episodes I-III cumulatively grossed $18.7M before the market’s massive expansion.

To raise awareness, Disney played all six titles at June’s Shanghai International Film Festival. The studio then made a deal with Tencent to create an online hub where all the movies were made available, and marched 500 Stormtroopers to the Great Wall for the first trailer debut. It also enlisted young superstar Lu Han as the film’s ambassador. Star Wars attractions were further announced for the Shanghai Disney Resort that opens later this year. What’s more, local stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen have been cast in Rogue One which comes out in December.