When I first reported that Star Wars: Force Awakens could potentially do $300M in its opening weekend back in August at the domestic B.O., some commenters thought I had joined a cult and completely lost it. Nothing in December, a frame that’s plagued by holiday parties and shopping, has beat the $84.6M opening set by The Hobbit:An Unexpected Journey during that month, so how can Force Awakens?
Yesterday news hit the web that advance ticket sales for J.J. Abrams movie are at $50M, and sources in exhibition pre-sales this morning tell me that figure is at $54M and could rise to $100M by the time the film debuts on Dec. 18. Here’s why: Disney has only run a minimal part of its ad campaign. One non-Disney source says that figure is as low as 5% and is going to swell this coming week as we head into Thanksgiving, a prime time for eyeballs at the multiplex. Furthermore, we’re also a month out from opening. The fact that Force Awakens has reached $54M in advance tickets sales is stunning for both distributors and exhibs.
With nearly a month to go, Fandango’s pre-sales for Force Awakens have already topped the total pre-sales of their previous record holder, the first Hunger Games movie, back in 2012. Fans are even buying advance tickets beyond opening weekend, through Christmas week and into 2016, while theater chains are continually posting new showtimes on Fandango to meet the fan demand. Imax reported yesterday that Force Awakens is their current record pre-seller at $18M. Imax reps a third of digital and large format screens, and its domestic build out will reach close to 400 hubs in time for Force Awakens. Despite these record pre-sales figures, there are still millions of tickets left for opening weekend. Keep in mind, when Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers hit a $207.4M opening, the average theater had a capacity of 63%, so it wasn’t a total sell-out situation.
With such lofty advance sales, that near $300M opening may not be so crazy now. Said one rival major studio marketing chief, “When it comes to the opening of Star Wars: Force Awakens, there isn’t an opening that would surprise me. You could put a 2, a 3 or a 4 in front of it. Nothing would shock me.”
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In fact the B.O. projection math per one exhibitor that gets us to a near $300M opening goes as follows: 12,000 auditoriums X 225 seats X $10 ticket X 18 shows a day X a 60% occupancy=$291.6M. Since Force Awakens has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, exhibitors will be able to show the film as much as 18-24 times a day on 3-4 screens. While that’s a normal number of showtimes for any city multiplex, sources believe that even suburban venues will pump up their showtimes for this movie beyond their typical norms. Force Awakens comes on the tracking boards next week, so we’ll have a more grounded estimate. But as we saw with Jurassic World this summer, when you’re dealing with a film that’s tracking off the charts, it becomes a challenging projection given the statistical sampling size. No one ever predicted that Jurassic World would hit an all-time domestic opening record of $208.8M.
Many believe that Force Awakens will easily best Jurassic World in its debut. In all fairness to Disney, even if the industry is wrong in their sky high estimates, anything north of Hobbit is still a stellar opening for Force Awakens. The leg out factor alone during the holidays– Avatar‘s being 9.7x off a $77M opening for a domestic B.O. of $760.5M–is reward alone for the first Star Wars film in 10 years and for the studio which has shelled out $4B to acquire the property from Lucasfilm. Unlike the days of Avatar, there are more PLF, Imax and 3D venues available to juice Force Awakens stubs.
Said one exhib pre-seller this morning to Deadline, “Based on what I’m hearing about the film, it’s going to give you chills. It’s that incredible. We’re in a completely different territory now. I’m not talking about Force Awakens, but the current movie marketplace.”
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