Star Wars box office
Courtesy of Disney

The Force is performing at light speed with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” heading for an opening weekend of at least $200 million in the U.S., early estimates showed Friday.

Disney executives hewed to the low end of expectations with the numbers well below those of rivals, who were projecting an opening weekend above $250 million.

So Disney-Lucasfilm’s “The Force Awakens” could top the six-month-old opening weekend record set by Universal’s “Jurassic World” with $208.4 million.

Disney said the $57 million gross from Thursday night previews would give it an opening day of at least $100 million for Friday (which includes the preview numbers), topping the $91.1 million opening day for final Harry Potter movie.

Dave Hollis, exec VP of distribution at Disney, issued a statement stressing that there are still plenty of seats available: “We are obviously very encouraged by the record-breaking presales for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ but there are literally millions of tickets available for this weekend, and exhibitors have a lot of flexibility in terms of capacity and increasing the number of shows based on demand.”

The seventh Star Wars movie started its U.S. box office run in record-setting fashion with $57 million in Thursday night previews — 31% above the $43.5 million in previews for 2011’s “Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows: Part 2.”

Disney also reported Friday that “The Force Awakens” had grossed $72.7 million in two days from 44 international markets with the U.K., Germany, Sweden and Norway generating single-day records. The film, which carries a production cost of at least $200 million, will open in nearly all other markets Friday except for India and Greece (which open Dec. 24) and China (which launches Jan. 9).

That means “The Force Awakens” could also eclipse the international opening weekend record of $316.1 million by “Jurassic World” — along with the dino movie’s worldwide opening record of $524.9 million.

Rentrak’s survey of moviegoers showed especially promising reactions with 76% rating “The Force Awakens” at “excellent” along with 19% as “very good.” The gender split was 70% male, 30% female; 51% of the audience was over 25.

A total of 76% of moviegoers said they had decided to see “The Force Awakens” at least a week ago. And most notably, Rentrak reported, 51% said the movie had exceeded their expectations and 45% said it had met expectations while only 5% said it fell short of expectations.

Additionally, 76% of those surveyed said they were interested in buying the film for home entertainment — 41% via Blu-ray, 27% on DVD and 8% through digital download. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak, told Variety that the initial numbers underline a deep attraction among moviegoers for the iconic franchise.

“The box office potential for the film both in North America and worldwide is now the subject of much speculation and excitement and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out as the weekend goes on, but there is no question that audiences around the world are loving the movie and embracing it with massive enthusiasm and this will lead to great numbers for ‘The Force Awakens,'” he added.

“The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J. Abrams, follows months of an assiduous marketing build-up highlighting new cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o and Domhnall Gleeson along with original “Star Wars” stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

Disney has clearly tapped into an enormous pent-up demand for the return of Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and Han Solo, plus the new characters and story line. The movie is opening three years after Disney paid  $4.06 billion for Lucasfilm.

“The Force Awakens” is set 30 years after the events of 1983’s “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” The film will be in a total of 4,134 North American locations on Friday — a record for a December opening.

In a sign of sky-high anticipation, the seventh film in the iconic science-fiction franchise had set a record by selling more than $100 million worth of advance tickets domestically as of Tuesday.

The first showings of the seventh Star Wars movie generated 47% of its U.S. preview grosses from 3D screenings, including $5.7 millions from 391 Imax screens, nearly doubling the previous record.

The seventh Star Wars movie — which generated hundreds of sold-out shows and thousands of fans showing up in costume — was so powerful that it grossed about 70 times the amount taken in Thursday night by previews of Universal’s Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy “Sisters,” which drew $769,000 at 2,220 theaters.

“Sisters” will take in about $15 million to $17 million at 2,961 North American theaters this weekend as Universal offers counter-programming for  comedy fans. Fey and Poehler portray siblings throwing a blow-out bash in their childhood home with a production cost of $30 million.

Fox is attempting to draw younger children this weekend with “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.” The fourth installment in the Alvin series should make $14 million to $16 million from 3,653 locations.

 

 

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