UPDATED, 4:25 PM: It’s official. Disney just sent out this release: “This afternoon, with early box office results in, Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the highest grossing film of all time in the domestic market, surpassing the $760.5M lifetime gross of Avatar in a record-shattering 20 days of release. In addition, the film crossed the $800M mark at the international box office today. Through Jan. 5, the film had grossed $758.2M domestically and $799.1M for a global total of $1,557.3B since its Dec. 16 global debut.”
PREVIOUSLY, 9:46 AM: After a near six years of holding the title as the highest grossing film at the domestic box office, 20th Century Fox’s Avatar at $760.6M has fallen from its perch, ceding its reign to Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens which flies past that B.O. mark today. A gross that took Avatar 318 days to accomplish, inclusive of a special late summer 2010 re-release, has only taken Force Awakens a mere 20 days.
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Globally, Episode VII, which carries an estimated production cost before P&A of $200M, stands at $1.56B.
Even more impressive, Force Awakens isn’t the widest release of all-time at 4,134 theaters; The Twilight Saga: Eclipse owns that number at 4,468. Some rival distribution chiefs when we spoke with them over the summer thought Disney was crazy: why would they even think of releasing a franchise that was born in the summer, outside of the summer? The studio along with Lucasfilm knew they were re-igniting a property that appealed to several generations. And the prime time of year when everyone from grandkids to grandparents frequents the movie on heavy basis? Christmas and New Year’s.
Of course, in this era, what has propelled Force Awakens to this B.O. benchmark faster than Avatar is the immense supply of 3D and digital screens. Since 2010, digital screens — which enable exhibitors to program more showtimes at a moment’s notice to meet demand — have shot up 168% to 41,518. Of that amount, 39% or 16,146 are 3D digital. Rentrak’s PostTrak reports that 45% of all audiences watched Force Awakens in RealD3D, 42% in 2D, and 12% in Imax.
A wise distribution executive once said “good movies rise to the occasion,” and that’s what we’re witnessing here with Force Awakens. True, rising ticket prices are a part of this film’s success, with PostTrak reporting that 52% of all moviegoer spent over $13 or more on a ticket. But so is repeat business. It’s not of unheard to say that Star Wars creator George Lucas lost his touch with Episodes I-III, leaving moviegoers with cold, empty dialogue and over-CGIed scenes topped off with bad acting. Each of the prequels scored an A- CinemaScore, while critics gradually warmed to each film with Rotten Tomatoes reporting 56% rotten for Phantom Menace, 66% for Attack of the Clones and 79% certified fresh for Revenge of the Sith. This time around, J.J. Abrams’ Force Awakens restored the Star Wars to the former glory and spirit of the original trilogy. Force Awakens earned an A CinemaScore and a 93% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, which was better than Return of the Jedi (80%), and just under Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back (both 94%). But even more telling about why moviegoers kept coming back: PostTrak reports that of those polled, 91% said that Force Awakens met or beat their expectations with 97% saying that they would definitely or probably recommend the film to other people.
Before Force Awakens even opened, online movie ticket websites were crashing. Advance ticket sales reached an estimated $100M before the Star Wars scroll flashed on the screen. So, it came as no surprise to hear that Force Awakens was the fastest title ever to cross $100M in just 21 hours.
When does Force Awakens finally slow down? Not for a while. Industry projections believe Episode VII will start losing theaters closer to the MLK holiday; that that frame’s opener Ride Along 2 will finally seize No. 1 away from Force Awakens with a four-day estimated take of $50M-plus.
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