Box office prognosticators are furiously speculating that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” could soon supplant “Avatar” as the highest-grossing film in history.
The rebirth of the fantasy saga may not quite reach those lofty heights, but the combination of returning cast members like Harrison Ford, merchandising friendly robots such as the cute droid BB-8, and popular director J.J. Abrams are aligning to create the kind of intergalactic smash that arrives only once or twice in a decade.
Some outlets have speculated that the film could break records with a $300 million weekend when it debuts on Dec. 18, although it’s worth noting that no film released in that month has opened to more than $85 million and this Christmas season is a competitive one. Predicting how high it eventually climbs is sure to be a favorite parlor game in Hollywood for the next few months.
Despite the box office muscle the seventh “Star Wars” is sure to exert, studios aren’t exactly giving the fantasy adventure a wide berth. Bigger budget tentpoles like “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” and “Monster Trucks” were moved out to make way for the potential record-breaker. But there are still plenty of next-tier titles launching, such as Universal’s Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy “Sisters” on the same day that the Millennium Falcon flies back into theaters, clearly hoping to rope in female audiences whose eyes may glaze over at the mention of Tatooine, Wookies or the Dagobah system.
The following week brings six wide releases including such films as “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip,” the Mark Wahlberg-Will Ferrell comedy “Daddy’s Home” and “Concussion,” a drama about head injuries in the NFL that stars Will Smith and is sure to inspire a hundred opinion pieces. That tops the four new wide releases that flooded theaters during the prior year period and surpasses the five wide releases that crowded into theaters in 2013. The arthouse scene will also be competitive, as two notable films debut in limited release — “The Revenant,” a Leonardo DiCaprio adventure film from Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu, and “The Hateful Eight,” a Quentin Tarantino Western that is embarking on a special 70mm run sure to get cinephiles’ pulses racing.
Barring a last-minute release date shuffle or two, that’s an awful lot of films vying for attention during a time when fanboys and fangirls, weaned on tales of Luke Skywalker, will be driving the moviegoing conversation.
“‘Star Wars’ is going to be big, but this is always a big moviegoing season,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “If the films are good, people will show up.”
Historically, Christmas is among the busiest times of the year for multiplexes. School holidays and work vacations combine to power ticket sales, and with a nice mixture of family films, raunchy comedies, adult dramas, and a return to a galaxy far, far away, this edition should be one of the strongest yet.
Analysts also stress that the presence of a box office leviathan doesn’t cast a shadow over the entire marketplace. Even as “Avatar” went on a record-annihilating tear in 2009, other Christmas releases such as “Sherlock Holmes,” “It’s Complicated,” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” did robust business. The presence of “Star Wars” could even lift up its rivals, bringing more people into theaters where they will be exposed to trailers and posters for other films.
“Big movies don’t always have a destructive impact,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Sometimes they fuel box office. When a bunch of customers walk out happy, they’re prone to show up for more movies.”