Okay, here’s the bad news about the Friday gross for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. First of all, with a $120.5 million Friday off a $57m Thursday preview gross, the Thursday/Friday pattern is actually about even with the famously front-loaded Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 which set records in 2011 with a $43.5m midnight gross, a $91m Friday, and a $169m weekend before sinking like a stone. Plus, it didn’t quite set the record for the biggest “pure” Friday in history, earning $700,000 less in “regular Friday” business than Jurassic World. And the other bad news is… uh… nope, that’s about. Oh wait, it got an A from Cinemascore instead of an A+. Horrors! Can this franchise be saved?
Return of the Jedi was the first film in history to make more than $20 million on opening weekend. The Phantom Menace broke the single-day record with $28m on a Wednesday and became the first movie to earn more than $100m in five days. Attack of the Clones didn’t break any records of note (first $30m Thursday I suppose), but Revenge of the Sith ended the series in style. It opened on a Thursday and became the first movie to top $50m in a single day. And actually, its three-day total of $124m was the biggest such total ever at the time although its $108m Fri-Sun total put it behind Spider-Man as the would-be biggest opening weekend ever. So here we are, 10.5 years after Revenge of the Sith and 32.5 years after Return of the Jedi, with a new Star Wars breaking records yet again.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens set a new Friday/single-day gross record yesterday, with a whopping $120.5 million for its “single day” gross. That wallops the $91m single day gross for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 and means the opening weekend record is toast. As I discussed at length yesterday, the real number I was curious about wasn’t the “total” Friday gross, which was always going to top $100m. No, the number I was after was the “pure” Friday total, which was the Friday amount minus that pesky Thursday night preview stampede. Well, that number is actually “just” $63.5m on just Friday, making it merely the second biggest “pure” Friday ever, behind Jurassic World’s $64.2m. That’s still ahead of the likes of The Avengers ($62.5m), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($56.86m), Iron Man 3 ($53.25m), and Furious 7 ($51.6m).
But at this point, the only question becomes by how much does Star Wars: The Force Awakens crush the old opening weekend record? That old record, of course, was Jurassic World with $208.8m back in June. Even an uber-frontloaded Harry Potter 7.2. /Fault in Our Stars type frame (around 1.85x) gets the film to $218 million for the weekend, while a mere 2x multiplier (think The Dark Knight Rises, most of the Twilight sequels and later Harry Potter chapters) gets it to $240m. One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of kids were off school already yesterday, so we may see something closer to Furious 7 (which opened with $67m on Good Friday and ended up with a $147m debut weekend). Of course, said 2.18x weekend multiplier gets the film to $262m for the weekend. So yeah, we may end up with a $250m weekend after all.
With mostly positive reviews and relatively happy audience members (my brother liked it about as much as my dad), there really isn’t much of a reason not to presume that this plays less like a front-loaded Twilight sequel and more like a general audiences hit. Nonetheless, you have to assume with opening day numbers this big that there will be severe front-loading at least until Monday, right? Maybe, but outside of Deathly Hallows part 2 the other three films that cleared $80 million in a single day all did solid 2.27-2.5x weekend multipliers. That would give the movie between $273m and $301m for the weekend. As grand as that would be, I imagine I’ve already lost some experience points for playing the cautious under-predictor for the last few months (although my Tuesday morning post may have accidentally pegged it accurately), so I don’t want to overcompensate in the other direction just to save face.
Walt Disney is officially playing it super safe with a $220 million weekend estimate, which is the correct play for them and may turn out to be true. But if it came to that, it would make give J.J. Abrams’s sci-fi sequel one of the most front-loaded opening weekends of all time. The current such record holder is One Direction: This Is Us which earned $8.8m on Friday and $15.8m for the weekend (1.78x). Even that pitiful performance would give The Force Awakens $214.5m for the weekend, which is just past the “between $180m and $220m” guestimate that we’ve all been tossing around for months. Of course, I’m sure it’ll make up for any legs-related shortcomings when casual viewers catch up over the holiday break, which was the point of this release date anyway.
Amusingly enough, if it ends up at $240 million for the weekend, that will basically be the guestimated number that my dad and I figured out back in 1999 as a best-case-scenario opening weekend for The Phantom Menace. But that was with every ticket sold and every seat filled. Sixteen years later The Force Awakens is going to end up around that number with plenty of seats available and plenty of tickets unsold. Disney is aware of what happened sixteen years ago when audiences somewhat stayed away on opening weekend on the presumption that no tickets would be available, so they have been taking almost comical pains to stress that there are still plenty of tickets available. So don’t worry if you’re a casual viewer wondering if you can see the film today or tomorrow. Disney assures you that you can totally buy a ticket to Brooklyn and sneak into a Force Awakens showing without much risk of getting caught.
Slight digression, but it’s kicking butt overseas as well, with a new overseas cume of $129.5 million and thus a new worldwide cume of $250m worldwide in just a few days. It’s playing everywhere in the world except for Greece (December 24th), India (December 24th), and China (January 9th of next year). It has earned $24.7m in the UK, $12.7m in Germany, $11.1m in France, $10.4m in Australia, $5.7m in Mexico, $4.9m in Russia, $4.4m in Italy, $4.1m in Brazil, $3.9m in Sweden, $3.5m in Spain, $3m in Japan, and $40.2m in assorted territories.
That it’s doing this well in America without sell-outs galore is a defining example of the “peak hours” nature of theatrical movie-going, as well as a sign that it will probably have solid December legs. The real questions, long term anyway, is whether it can expand those audience demographics beyond just dudes and whether or not it can keep those screens against the deluge of January releases, but that’s for another day. Today we celebrate and wonder whether it can top the $250 million-$258m domestic totals of Night at the Museum, I Am Legend, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug just by the end of tomorrow or merely a few days from then.
By Scott Mendelson Courtesy of Forbes.com
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