Box Office: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Shreds Records With $238 Million Debut

Star Wars the Force Awakens
Courtesy of Disney

Star Wars: The Force Awakens” micronized box office records this weekend, racking up a monumental $238 million opening and justifying the Walt Disney Company’s $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm.

That 2012 acquisition was intended to launch a cinematic universe set in a galaxy far, far away: a series of interconnected sequels, spinoffs and prequels that would serve as a filmic parallel to Disney’s Marvel Comics-inspired adventures.

“This is a record that will stand for a long time,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “This gives us an idea of how much a movie can make on a particular weekend.”

Director J.J. Abrams’ nostalgic take on the series of space operas George Lucas created four decades ago was a hit with critics and fans, earning strong reviews and an A CinemaScore. Its opening soared past the previous high-water mark of $208.8 million established last summer by “Jurassic World.” It more than doubles “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s” December record debut of $84.6 million.

Globally, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” scored the second-biggest opening in history, earning $517 million worldwide, behind only “Jurassic World’s” $525 million bow. Unlike “Jurassic World,” the seventh film in the “Star Wars” franchise did not have the benefit of showing in China on its inaugural weekend. It opens there on Jan. 9.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens'” dominance was a foregone conclusion. It has already shattered pre-sales records, selling more than $100 million of advance tickets. A decade separates Abrams’ film and Lucas’ poorly received (but immensely profitable) prequels. The absence appeared to have stoked excitement and made “Star Wars” the rare film to capture the zeitgeist. Scalpers sold tickets to prime showtimes, parents weaned on the Skywalker clan saga took their children to introduce a new generation to the epic push-and-pull between the Dark Side and the Light and theaters were forced to clarify their costume policy, with many chains outlawing masks and blasters. Lightsabers were treated more leniently, but exhibitors such as AMC mandated that they be left off during showtimes.

“It was bigger than a movie,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief. “It became a cultural event.”

Men made up the bulk of ticket buyers, comprising 58% of the opening weekend audience. Adults represented 71% of the crowd with families accounting for 20% of consumers. The film, with its inter-galactic battles and space-hopping adventures, played particularly well in premium formats — 3D showings accounted for 47% of tickets sales, Imax made up 12% and premium large formats were responsible for 7%.

The bonanza may not be over. Hollis believes that the film will benefit from its release on the cusp of the Christmas holiday. School vacation will begin this week, which should enable the film to rope in younger viewers.

“There’s going to be a lot of repeat business,” said Hollis. “We’re going to get a big burst when schools get out.”

A few, brave films debuted against the “Star Wars” juggernaut. Twentieth Century Fox tried to snag families with young children, offering up “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.” The sequel to the ongoing “Chipmunks” franchise earned $14.4 million from 3,653 theaters. It cost $75 million to make.

“We believed that ‘Star Wars’ might be rated PG-13 and that there would be an opportunity to reach a younger age group,” said Chris Aronson, Fox’s distribution chief. “We saw a chance to take advantage of that and we did.”

Universal fielded Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s “Sisters,” a comedy about two siblings who have a raucous house party, to the tune of $13.4 million from 2,952 theaters. The film cost $30 million to produce.

“It’s great to have a comedy for Christmas,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s domestic distribution head. “We’re very happy with the way it started out and we’ll play well into January.”

Holdovers “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” and “Creed” rounded out the top five, earning $5.6 million and $5.1 million, respectively. “The Hunger Games” sequel has generated $254.4 million and the “Rocky” spinoff has made $87.9 million since opening in November.

In the Oscar contender field, Paramount held “The Big Short” steady in eight theaters, making $350,000. The financial crisis comedy has earned $1.3 million since debuting last weekend. It expands nationally on Dec. 23.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Son of Saul” bowed to $38,891 from three theaters, for a per-screen average of $12,964. The Holocaust drama from Hungarian filmmaker Laszlo Nemes is viewed as a likely best foreign film Academy Award nominee.

The success of “Star Wars” enabled the industry to reach a new high-water mark for a weekend, with total receipts passing the $300 million barrier for the first time in history. The exhibition industry is hoping to pass $11 billion this year, establishing a new record, but it still has more than $600 million in revenue to make up.

“It’s still going to be tough,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “It all comes down to ‘Star Wars.'”

VIDEO: Watch the “Stars Wars” cast sing the iconic theme music: 

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  1. Aaron.RG says:

    Once it opens in China, add those opening sales to the rest of the worldwide opening sales and it will definitely surpass Jurassic World.

  2. Could well pass the $1.5 billion mark, and maybe even on to 2.

  3. Dream Cortex says:

    One thing this article concentrates upon — and most commentators here buy into — is Variety’s facile and slavish devotion to numbers: the dollar amounts the Star Wars film’s made. Now, this is understandable; Hollywood is only a business after all, and nothing more — and Variety is a principal trade organ of the $-spooling entity trying to eat America whole.

    But for anyone interested in the comparative popularity of a film in its era AND across generations, you have to take into account a certain thang called inflation. _Avatar’s_ leading position in dollars is meaningless. Go to “Box Office Mojo” and see their list “all time box office adjusted for inflation”. They explain their methodology and though you may quibble a little with the weighting they give to certain values – if you are persnikkety – they can’t be out by more than a couple of % either over or under the true figure.

    So: _Gone with the Wind_ is still numero uno of all time, _Star Wars_ (only a clueless toss-pot calls it “A New Hope”) is not that far behind at number two — _Avatar_ ain’t even in the top ten! Get some perspective, folks! Inflation distorts the true picture of a film’s impact in its time, and especially compared to its impact *over* time as inflation progressively kicks in. How many of you would know _Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs_ is the 10th biggest film of all time? But Should you be surprised? Films such as _The Sound of Music_, _101 Dalmations_, _The Exorcist_ or _The Sting_ aren’t handy touchstones of culture for no reason — it’s because everyone’s seen them! Variety used to run a cute little list of all-time box office hits that pointed only to the the raw-dollar-amounts — but since such lists are biased only towards the profitability of the latest fads I wasn’t sorry to see Variety dump that. Now they only refer to the current week’s box office.

    ($$$ have a way of foreshortening perception. Clearly, for Variety, last week’s $$ no longer carry any respectability.)

    If only such facile Hollywood trade organs weren’t obsessed with $$ & do what the French film industry sensibly does: count the number of Ticket Admissions — a fixed value that doesn’t change over time (. . . unless people buy more tickets in re-releases, which they would simply add to the tally). But of course, Hollywood and Variety ain’t interested in How Many PEOPLE in a given generation see a film — and thereby make it a cultural event — all they care a damn about are the DOLLAR figures. They are strictly quantity-orientated. (“Quality”, in Hollywood, is a metaphysical foreign word for which they have never found a translation.)

  4. Enmukee says:

    If it breaks any record, thank George Lucas for it as it is rolling on pure hype. JJ Abrams is a hack without a speck of originality. The story is predictable and is borrowed unashamedly from the earlier movies, None of the characters have any depth or emotional connection, the technology of the real world is transformed from 1977 to 2015, yet the Star Wars movie world is stuck in 1977, the Dark Side continues to make ludicrously enormous weapons that can be easily destroyed by a bunch of fighters, the force is a joke to manipulate, even neophytes can use the force to command others which breaks the point of any Jedi training. There is nothing in here for newer generations and that is a shame. These paid reviews are not doing the industry any favors by encouraging such mediocrity.

  5. Lewis says:

    Well deserved, Great movie!

  6. sandra says:

    its a cult with no spiritual component.

  7. I’m already SICK OF STAR wars,I’m not a fan.

  8. DarkStarAz says:

    $1B by Jan 1st

  9. DarkStarAz says:

    It was just $8M shy of Jurassic world-wide, and that was without China, which is the second biggest BO grosser in the world…

  10. LOL says:

    What a depressing era we live in when middle-aged American men continue to suck on the proverbial teat of cultural nostalgia. It’s embarrassing.

    The success of this film is a shameful indictment of our times. Grow up.

  11. Cet says:

    Repeat business is an understatement. I have seen it 3 times and will probably go a 4th this week. I have a number of friends that have also done multiple viewings already. Is it perfect? No. But it looks, sounds, and feels like a Star Wars movie. I haven’t felt that way in theater since Return of the Jedi which was the first movie my father ever took me to at the age of 8.

    • DarkStarAz says:

      I would think there will be a percentage of ppl who will want to see it on a regular screen, and on a 3d screen, and on an IMAX screen, and on an IMAX 3d screen…so yeah, a ton of repeat business

      • Nikki says:

        People should start with the IMAX 3d screen and go down from there. The film is fantastically beautiful on an IMAX 3d screen with laser projection.

  12. James says:

    This was a foregone conclusion at this point (although projections yesterday were touting larger numbers in the 250’s). Nostalgia and the state of the country (and the world) set the stage for an audience desperate for an event like this. It’s rare in the modern age to have this kind of event that unites people as this has done which, I think, is the bigger success and something Disney can mine in the upcoming months. The bigger question is that, now that the nostalgia piece has been done, how will something like Rogue One play as a spinoff next December? Especially since it’s more of a prequel set before Episode 4 and has none of the characters from the saga…..and just to clarify my tone, I’m not disparaging the film or insulting it, I’m simply asking the question that I’m sure is on Disney’s mind going into the next film.

    • jedi77 says:

      Well, the Rogue One film does have characters from the saga.
      Remember it takes place immediately before Star Wars. A Darth Vader appearence is possible, Grand Moff Tarkin we now will be there in CGI, and R2D2 will have to be in it as well, since he carries the plans.

      But you’re right. How it does will be extremely interesting.
      I am guessing, with good reviews, it’ll do about $250 million total in domestic BO. But nowhere near Star Wars numbers.
      And, of course, Variety will be writing op-eds about how it’s a failure, and asking “Is Star Wars over?”, with headlines like “The Force Sleeps”. Because, you know, that’s what they do.

    • Alex says:

      Will it surpass “Avatar” as the highest grossing flick of all time? I dunno, but it’s safe to say that Disney is going to milk this cash cow until it sez moo.

  13. Quick Silver says:

    JJ. You did it. ‘Nuff said.

  14. nickp91 says:

    Star Wars set the NA record of $238 million opening weekend. Made $517 globally and it’s not in China till next month

  15. What happened to Poe?
    How did he escape Jakku?
    Why did he leave when he needed BB-8?

    • Agent for the dark side carrying the biddings and game plan adjustments for Snoke? Yes he led the blitzkreig on the starkiller base but was that just an adjustment to Snoke’s larger picture? He’s too too affable to trust.

  16. neptune says:

    İt is 7 pm in İstanbul, tickets are being sold and shows are being screened. How come you guys come up with these numbers? if these are actual numbers you are missing something here. The numbers should be higher.

  17. We will see says:

    Hmmm According to box office mojo sat and sun this movie is already running behind Jurassic world.. Plus I don’t see it playing as well during the week day because of summer

  18. Nice number but says:

    Very front loaded compared to Jurassic world

    • me says:

      Yes but remember, the majority of those men who saw it (58% of this weekend’s audience) live with their mothers and don’t have girlfriends, so they will certainly go back and see it over and over – most likely in their storm trooper costumes.

  19. Mark Geiger says:

    I am not an industry professional so I am missing something. It is not even 9:00 am on the west coast. Is this “weekend” box office number a projection or do you say the weekend ends Saturday night? If it is just a projection, does the number actually change once all the ticket sales from Sunday evening showings are actually counted? FWIW, I loved the movie and so did my kids and grandkids.

    • Rey Skywalker says:

      Yes this is just an estimate (the actual tally will be released on Monday). There’s a science to the estimation which typically get them close to the actual totals but Sunday’s estimated totals are hinged on Saturday performance and its relative drop from Friday. Having said that though, with a movie this large, anything can happen. It’s well within possibility that the final actual number may be 240+ or possibly in the 220’s.

    • Vince says:

      Once analysts know the Friday/Saturday box office numbers for a movie they can predict Sunday ticket sales with pretty good accuracy.

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