The most common refrain from exhibitors, rival distributors and industry watchers this week has been that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is entering “uncharted waters” when it begins international rollout on December 16. And that makes projections less exact than bullseyeing womp rats. Late this summer, my colleague Anthony D’Alessandro and I offered up what we saw as potential for the film both domestically and internationally. Now that it’s turned up on domestic tracking, it’s time to take another look at those offshore possibilities. In August, I was hearing as high as $315M. That would put this reboot in the realm of Jurassic World which this summer posted a record overseas opening of $315.3M. I’m now hearing some slightly more conservative estimates, although many are suggesting $300M is not out of the question. Whatever it does, it will be huge and as one person said to me today, it’s likely to break records in all markets across the globe.
On the conservative side, a distribution exec says, “I would think that $300M is a good place to start, but the pre-Christmas time has never been spectacular so if it came in at $250M, it wouldn’t surprise me either.” Those pre-holiday days compete with shopping, travel and the like. This same person nevertheless says, “This is uncharted territory for sure.” Agreeing on the uncharted waters front, yet countering, another source says there’s “not a chance” it does $250M. “This is going to blow away Jurassic World.”
It’s important to remember that JW had about $96M from China in its opening suite, so getting other markets to make that up on SWTFA isn’t necessarily a given. Yet, while I got some gruff when I suggested JW’s opening stomp-a-thon could hit a $300M opening, the final tally beat even my lofty projection. Jurassic World and Star Wars have a fair bit in common. Both are beloved franchises that began decades ago and the nostalgia factor can’t be ignored.
A rival exec has contended that Star Wars is “five-quadrant.” Along with people now in their mid-40s who saw the original in theaters (of which I am one), they will want to see it, plus they have kids they’ll bring. It plays to men and women and “you have the older audience. People who saw it when they were in their 20s or so.” That adds a dimension of folks in their late-50s and early-60s. “There is a whole program of generations that potentially want to be in on the movie,” this exec says.
This Star Wars will see a massive day-and-date release outside of China and a few smaller markets like Greece and India (in the latter, superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s Diwale goes out on December 18; staying out of his way is a good idea).
Major markets outside the U.S. on the previous films have rather consistently been Japan, the UK, Germany, Australia, France and Italy — with Spain squeaking in once in a while to the Top 5.
Those are all mature markets now and will be expected to play in the same field again. (One skeptical international exec says they expect both the U.S. and Europe to be bigger than Jurassic World, but “smaller everywhere else.”) Still, the growth markets of Russia, Brazil, Mexico and the rest of emerging Latin America and Asia Pacific would lean us to think the opening will be remarkable.
This year, Furious 7 did $250M in its opening without China and the thinking is that more kids will come out for Star Wars.
In terms of comps, the Hobbit works domestically, but on the international side we might go back to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 and its $314M opening offshore witchcraft. But that was a summer release. It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comps (there’s that uncharted water again). To find a similar release pattern, we have to go back to Avatar in 2009. I was in the audience for the world premiere in London that year and can attest to the excitement in the room and the build-up factor that helped it become the No. 1 movie of all time. But it had an international debut of $164.5M then increased on a big multiple – Star Wars will hook into a multiple as well.
Around the world, Disney’s promotional efforts have been strategic and huge. Audiences are readying their lightsabers for opening day. Advance ticket sales in places like the UK and France have broken records. In some cases, sites were crashed on the first day of trading.
A UK exhibition exec tells me The Force Awakens has far outpaced recent smash Spectre and that it will easily become the biggest movie ever in the market. While walk-up tickets will still be available everywhere as theaters put more shows on more screens to accommodate demand (ie, around the clock), chains have been “selling tickets into mid-January. This is uncharted waters. It’s going to open massive,” I’m told.
One analyst says, “I guess the question remains can it match or beat Jurassic World.” This person suggests that given the “immense levels of anticipation… it’s fair to assume it can match or beat it in most markets.” While JW had China and Star Wars does not, it does have Japan, this person notes. (And All Nippon Airways – see video below.)
Geting into the nitty gritty, the analyst suggests that if all markets perform 20% better on opening than Jurassic World, Star Wars would get to around $280M. To get to $300M, they would have to perform an average of 30% better than Jurassic World across all launch markets, and 36% better to beat JW‘s opening. “Given the title, I don’t think this can be ruled out.”
Another analyst believes that Star Wars’ international versus domestic gross ratio is close to 1.2:1. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, which was the overseas opening leader before JW, has a ratio that’s over 2:1. SW7 “is a phenomenon, but from experience, winter blockbusters have low drops and summer blockbusters explode,” this person notes.
If SWTFA opens in a $275M-$300M range, it will be on its way to outgrossing Revenge Of The Sith within its first week. “Anything over $300M should be considered a fantastic result for this title!,” says the analyst.
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