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‘Star Wars’: Breaking Down Its International Box Office Potential

Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will naturally mint millions in Euros, yen, yuan and pesos. But cultural differences mean that some countries won’t have as massive a Force field as others. For example, the space epic will see competition from local holiday movies in Italy, while Chinese audiences aren’t as familiar as others with the first six films in the series.

Box office experts are predicting that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” could land among the top three films of all time, potentially grossing more than “Jurassic World’s” $1.6 billion worldwide.

In most territories, major titles are largely avoiding the first six weeks after the “Star Wars” opening. Premium ticket prices for 3D and IMAX screenings will also boost grosses — 90% of the advance tickets bought in Germany, for example, have been for the 3D version, said Tim Richards, CEO of movie theater chain Vue.

Eva Rekettyei, programming manager of Yelmo Cineplex, one of Spain’s biggest exhibition chains, praises Disney’s launch strategy of “going beyond the fan base, targeting all kinds of audiences.” She added, “Original saga fans will be going to the theaters with their kids.”

Richards at Vue, which has 1,859 screens in 10 European countries, said, “It has broken records for pre-booking in most if not all of our markets. So we have very high expectations,” he says. “In our markets, it is looking like it has got the potential to be one of the great films of all time.”

United Kingdom
B.O. projection: Up to $150 million total
In the U.K., the champion to beat is “Skyfall,” which grossed a best-ever record 103 million GBP ($154 million) after it opened in 2012. “If the word of mouth is OK to good, and I think it will be, (‘Star Wars’) will have strong holds and beat ‘Skyfall’s’ U.K. record before the end of week five,” said one box-office expert. “‘Star Wars’ online sales are tracking way above anything they’ve seen before,” he added.

The film is expected to have a 30 million GBP ($44.8 million) plus four-day opening weekend in the U.K., and then have a great second and third week in the box office, helped by winter school holidays.

So far in the U.K., Vue has just under 3 million GBP ($4.48 million) banked through advanced sales for the film, with 238,000 tickets sold, two weeks before release. “Disney has done a brilliant job marketing the film,” Richards said. “Bringing the old cast back was inspired – you’ve now got the baby boomers, the millennials, and you’ve got a whole new audience. There aren’t many films that have that kind of potential.” Vue will be running some of its sites 24 hours a day to meet demand.

Germany
B.O. projection: 10 million admissions (approx. $90-$110 million total)
In Germany, exhibitors and market watchers are confident “Star Wars” will become the most successful film of the year, besting local comedy “Fack ju Goehte 2” — so far the year’s biggest moneymaker with a total box office haul of more than $65 million, and beating “Minions” and “Spectre” as well.

CinemaxX reported record pre-sales for the film after selling more than 40,000 tickets within 24 hours — the highest number of pre-sold tickets in the exhibitor’s history. As a result of the onslaught of ticket buyers, CinemaxX is now offering pre-sales for the entire Christmas week, Dec. 23-30.

“Absolutely massive is the only way to describe the rush for tickets,” said CinemaxX managing director Carsten Horn. “We prepared ourselves for a very large demand with earlier box office opening times and a staggered sales launch, but what we experienced topped everything.”

Oliver Fock, managing director of CineStar, Germany’s largest exhibition chain, told Variety that pre-sales had surpassed expectations. “We already have box office of 1.7 million Euros ($1.8 million) and the film hasn’t even started yet.”

Japan
B.O. projection: $80 million-$100 million; opens December 18
Meanwhile in Japan, the Toho Cinemas chain reported that when they began taking online orders for advance tickets on Nov. 18, servers went down and all opening-day tickets were sold out on the first day. “It’s possible for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ to equal the box office of the first prequel (‘The Phantom Menace’), which earned JPY12.7 billion ($103 million) here in 1999,” said Hiroo Otaka, box office analyst for the Bunka Tsushin entertainment news service. “But the biggest film in Japan this year, ‘Jurassic World,’ finished with JPY9.3 billion ($76 million). It’s really hard for a film now to exceed the JPY10 billion ($81 million) line.”

France
B.O. projection: 7-10 million admissions (approx. $76-$100 million total); opens December 16

French distribution expert Jean-Philippe Tirel, president of Selective Films, as well as consultant for companies such as Gaumont, predicted that in France, “The Force Awakens” would make at least as much as the previous installment, which tallied 7 million admissions, and quite possibly up to 10 million tickets.

South Korea

B.O. projection: Not available, but “Avengers: Age of Ultron” grossed $78 million, while “Kingsman: The Secret Service” grossed $47 million. Opens December 17.

“It is difficult to predict how many tickets ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ will sell,” said a spokesman for CJ-CGV, Korea’s largest cinema chain. The spokesperson raised the concern that the younger generation might not be “fully aware” of the new film. It will screen at premium IMAX and its 4DX screens, the state-of-the-art theaters equipped with motion-effects chairs and environmental effects tuned to the on-screen activity.

The distributor has also struck a collaboration with K-pop band EXO. Currently Korea’s biggest pop act, EXO released its “Force”-inspired new single “Lightsaber” and a cinematic music video last month. Meanwhile, former EXO member Lu Han will help promote the film across Asia with his huge social media following and a “Star Wars”-inspired music video.

Spain
B.O. projection: $33-37 million total; opens December 18
Spanish exhibitors have few doubts about the pulling power of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in their country.
“There’s a solid fanbase in Spain for the franchise and the cast,” said Francisco Garcia, CEO of ACEC, one of Spain’s leading exhibitors. Garcia’s estimation for its first weekend is $8 million-$8.5 million, on a par with “Spanish Affair 2,” which notched up the best first-weekend bow of this year of $8.4 million. “’Star Wars’ could end up the year with around $22 million and a final cume of $37 million,” he told Variety. Only “Spanish Affair 2” has any chance of beating that this year in Spain.

Rekettyei at Yelmo Cineplex made a similar prediction: “Around $33 million. It may be possible to surpass this figure, but beyond this figure it is very difficult to make any reasonable calculations,” she said.

China
B.O. projection: $23-$31 million total; opens January 9
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” won’t be released in China until January, as the 2015 quota for imported films was exhausted by early December. That leaves Chinese local films to rule the box office during the most lucrative month of the year. The China release on Jan. 9 will be the last international opening, and will test of the power of international marketing to leak across Chinese borders. That’s because the previous six “Star Wars” films were not released theatrically in China, meaning today’s key movie-going demographic should be relatively unaware of the franchise.

But Jimmy Wu, chairman and CEO of the Lumiere Pavilions cinema chain, says there is both awareness and pent-up demand. “’Star Wars’ has a huge fan base in China. Fans have already been calling us to organize cosplay [costumed role-playing] events before and during the release of ‘Star Wars.’ They also organized people to review the series beginning from ‘Star Wars 4,’” Wu said. “The international hype will definitely help the promotion of the film in China. ”

Wu’s fairly conservative prediction is that the film will gross RMB150m-RMB200m ($23.5-$31.3 million) in Chinese theaters, though it could well total considerably more. That would put it ahead of the “Hunger Games” pictures (“Mockingjay – Part 2” has scored $21.5 million to date), but a long way behind “Spectre” (currently at $83 million).

Italy
B.O. projection: $15-20 million total; opens December 16
Though exhibitor expectations are high, market experts caution that Italy will be one of the toughest Western territories for “The Force Awakens.” There’s a glut of local movie releases in December, starting with Pope Francis biopic “Call Me Francesco” with a massive Dec. 6 launch, followed by a clutch of homegrown Christmas comedies, and the release of Checco Zalone’s “Quo Vado” on Jan. 1. Zalone’s last film “Sole a Catinelle” pulled $70 million locally. The box office goal for “Force” in Italy is between $15-20 million, according to several sources.

Fabio Brugnoli, marketing director at the country’s top exhibitor UCI Italy, noted that “compared with Anglo-Saxon countries the power of ‘Star Wars’ in Italy is a bit lower.” Still there is a strong fan base, which has prompted UCI to pre-sell 40,000 tickets for the first week. Total ticket pre-sales in Italy are estimated to be 100,000. “The gamble will be to attract teenagers,” who are new to the franchise, he pointed out.

Another Italian exhibitor Nicola Grispello, who runs the Circuito Cinema di Napoli chain in Naples, sounded more upbeat, saying “The Force Awakens” could outperform all the previous installments of the franchise in Italy, though he admitted that the country, especially the South, is not “a top ‘Star Wars’ territory.”

(Ed Meza, Patrick Frater, Sonia Kil, John Hopewell, Emilio Mayorga, Nick Vivarelli, Elsa Keslassy and Mark Schilling contributed to this report.)

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