Star Wars the Force Awakens
Courtesy of Disney

Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is shaping up to become a cinematic event with few equals.

Pent-up excitement for the return of Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Han Solo, and a raft of interplanetary film icons is powering the seventh film in the science-fiction franchise towards a record opening weekend. Disney, the company that plunked down $4 billion and change for the rights to George Lucas’ brainchild, is in the enviable position of downplaying expectations, but rival studios and industry analysts believe that “The Force Awakens” will open to $210 million or more, establishing a new high-water mark. Of course, when a film has this kind of awareness surrounding it, the methodology for projecting a specific box office result is about as scientific as the four humors of Hippocratic medicine.

Flaws in the predictive model aside, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the film will be huge. The film has already set a record for pre-sales, moving more than $50 million in tickets, and should at the very least shatter “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s” record December launch of $84.6 million. “The Force Awakens” will roll out across more than 4,100 theaters in North America, 392 of which will be IMAX screens and more than 3,300 of which will be 3D locations.

It will also be in most of the known world. The one major exception being China, where “The Force Awakens” lands on Jan. 9. That massive distribution campaign also has some predicting that the latest excursion to a galaxy far, far away will top “Jurassic World’s” record-setting $525.5 million global bow.

Should “The Force Awakens” fall short of a record, it can content itself with enviable placement on the calendar (as well as millions of BB-8 toys sold and stuffed into stockings). Next week is the launch of the Christmas/New Year’s corridor, a two-week movie-going bonanza that routinely fills multiplexes’ coffers. That means that “The Force Awakens” could conceivably rack up far in excess of $400 million before 2016 starts.

Bringing the Skywalker clan back to the big screen cost at least $200 million to produce and the gross product of Endor to market, but that will be a small price to pay if “The Force Awakens” can bolster interest in the series and kick-off a series of planned sequels, spin-offs, and origin stories. Disney’s ambition is for LucasFilm to join Marvel and Pixar in its arsenal of top-shelf movie brands.

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ World Premiere Photos
Star Wars Premiere Photos

Even with “Star Wars” dominating the cultural conversation, a few films will venture out and try to siphon off ticket-buyers. Universal’s “Sisters,” which reunites the “Baby Mama” team of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, will likely pull in $13 million from 2,950 theaters this weekend. The picture about aging sisters throwing a blow-out bash in their childhood home cost $30 million to make.

Fox is also trying to ensnare younger children, who may be frightened by all things Kylo Ren, with “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.” The fourth installment in the popular family series should make $12 million from 3,650 locations. The studio believes the film will show some endurance throughout the holiday season when school is out of session.

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