Star_Wars_Le_réveil_de_la_forceFrance was the first major territory to awaken to the new Star Wars with showings that began at 10AM local time around the country this morning. Day one figures will be available tomorrow, but local box office tracker CBO has a standard practice on all openers of culling the number of admissions to the first 2PM screenings in Paris. Star Wars: The Force Awakens blasted off with 16,415 moviegoers on 29 screens in the capital this afternoon, and a further 20K in the near suburbs. Separately and combined, that’s the second best start this year behind Spectre which debuted to 22,510 admissions for its first 2PM plays in Paris (on a holiday and two days before the deadly terror attacks last month) and 58,780 with the burbs factored in. It is also the 4th best start of all time in the Paris category, just below Revenge Of The Sith — by 32 tickets. When including the suburbs, it bests Sith to be the biggest Star Wars ever. For more context, Minions, which is the most-attended movie of the year in France (6.4M tickets sold), did only 8,436 on 25 screens in its Paris opening 2PM plays over the summer.

The first screenings figures are clearly not wholly indicative of what’s to come, but are an initial glimpse into box office on the most anticipated movie of recent times. Reviews have been positively glowing and this movie is all anyone can talk about in France today.

cinema aix renoirI was not in Paris, but traveled to Aix-en-Provence to check out the scene. There are three main movie theaters, one multiplex and two art-house cinemas. The multiplex is playing only the dubbed French version and there were several hundred in the audience this morning with 10 shows throughout the day, some of which were sold out. One art-house cinema is showing it in English, with a full house in the morning and reservations throughout the day. There were 500K tickets pre-sold in France, whipping the record previously set by Fifty Shades Of Grey‘s 250K. Pre-sales also hit records in the UK, Germany and Russia among others.

In Aix at lunchtime, Star Wars seemed to be on everyone’s minds. Sitting in a café across from one of the theaters, the waiter assumed I was there for the movie, while kids raced down the Cours Mirabeau to make sure they didn’t miss the 1:30 PM screening. On the radio, chatter about JJ Abrams’ addition to the saga has been up and down the dial all day — from business stations to cultural and mainstream plays. A caller to Europe 1 who’d seen SWTFA in Paris this morning commented that with the recent tragedies, the movie is “just the thing we need.” A New Hope indeed.

Star Wars London PremiereMeanwhile, other openers today included Italy, the Philippines, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Thailand, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Finland. London is getting ready for its premiere in Leicester Square tonight (see right). After that, and beginning at midnight, Britons will flood theaters in the UK while Germany, Korea, Mexico, Australia, Russia and Brazil are among the other official Thursday kick-offs. On Friday, the U.S. bows (after previews tomorrow) along with Japan, Spain Venezuela and more. We’ll be following the numbers all weekend.