Glowing reviews on Wednesday boosted weekend forecasts for Walt Disney Co’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, according to box office analysts who projected the long-awaited film will open near the record set this year by Jurassic World.
The first Star Wars movie in a decade will likely haul in between $180 million and $223 million in the United States and Canada from its Thursday night debut through Sunday, experts said after the film scored a 97% positive rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. The film has already earned $141 million in advance sales. But to become one of the top three biggest ever movies worldwide over the long haul, The Force will need to work its power on China, where the movie opens in January.
The Force is strong at BO
The current all-time box office champ is 2009’s Avatar with $2.8 billion in global ticket sales, followed by the 1997 movie Titanic with $2.2 billion. The Force Awakens needs repeat customers in China to reach those numbers. The last Star Wars film, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, collected just $9 million in China.
“That all depends on China,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. “Outside of Avatar, sci-fi hasn’t had a really good track record overseas.”
The positive reviews will draw people outside of the rabid Star Wars fan base, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “That’s what’s going to get it into the billion-dollar club, then the two-billion-dollar club,” he said. “Even more important, this sets the stage and the tone for the whole rebooted franchise.”
The long-term success of Force Awakens is crucial for Disney, which paid $4 billion in 2012 for Star Wars producer Lucasfilm and plans several related movies and theme park attractions. In North America, the big question this weekend is whether The Force can defeat a herd of dinosaurs. Jurassic World debuted with $208.8 million in domestic theaters in June. No movie opening in December, which is slower than the summer, has come close to that level.
“Star Wars fans want ownership of this record,” Bock said. Advance ticket sales have been “astounding,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s head of theatrical distribution. But he added that millions of seats remain available for this weekend. “Theaters have been continually adding shows to accommodate demand,” he said.
Force Awakens powered ahead of Jurassic World in social media comparisons from BoxOffice.com, with more than 739,000 Twitter mentions in the past five days, nearly triple the dinosaur film’s 253,000.
Star Wars wins its first award
A day after its release in a few countries, Star Wars also notched up its first award when the American Film Institute named it as one of the 10 best films of the year. The film is yet to release in United States where it hits theatres this Friday. The Force Awakens was included in a list alongside awards front-runners such as Wall Street misdeeds comedy The Big Short and lesbian romance drama Carol.
The American Film Institute’s top films of the year are selected by critics, scholars, TV and film artists and AFI trustees, and come on the heels of this year’s Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) nominations. While Star Wars did not receive any Globe or SAG nominations, likely due to the fact that voters would not have seen the film, which has been shrouded in secrecy, its AFI nomination makes it a potential contender for February’s Oscars ceremony.
Awards voters often shun action-packed and special effects-laden big studio fare in favour of more dramatic and grounded stories. But this year, Star Wars was named on AFI’s list alongside blockbuster action film Mad Max: Fury Road and space adventure, The Martian.
Other films on the list included psychological thriller Room, Roman Catholic Church newspaper probe Spotlight, Cold War drama Bridge of Spies and Pixar’s animated extravaganza Inside Out and rap biopic Straight Outta Compton.