Here's your estimated 3-day box office returns (new releases bolded):
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – $238.0 million ($238.0 million total)
2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip – $14.4 million ($14.4 million total)
3. Sisters – $13.4 million ($13.4 million total)
4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 – $5.6 million ($254.4 million total)
5. Creed – $5.0 million ($87.9 million total)
6. The Good Dinosaur – $4.3 million ($96.6 million total)
7. Krampus – $3.7 million ($34.8 million total)
8. In the Heart of the Sea – $3.4 million ($18.6 million total)
9. Dilwale – $1.8 million ($1.8 million total)
10. Bajirao Mastani – $1.6 million ($1.6 million total)
The Big Stories
For weeks, even months, industry analysts have been flummoxed with just how much money Star Wars: The Force Awakens was going to make. Would it be the biggest opening, let alone film of all time? Would it succumb to overinflated expectations and be considered some kind of a disappointment? As early as this week, the best, the brightest and the tracking put the range somewhere between $180-220 million, hedging their bets on whether the film would surpass Jurassic World's record-breaking start of $208 million just six months ago. Well, it would seem that all bets are off as J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens, in three days only, is already laying the groundwork that no record is safe as long as it remains in theaters.
A Galaxy Not So Far Away
If we adjust for inflation, the loose estimates place the original Star Wars at approximately $1.485 billion. That's in the U.S. alone, good enough for second all-time behind 1939's Gone with the Wind. The Empire Strikes Back ranks 12th on that list with $818.8 million and Return of the Jedi comes in 15th at $784.4 million. It is only fair to give the original trilogy its due in terms of its lower ticket costs and it gives an even greater perspective to just how high The Force Awakens could actually climb. Bringing us back to 2015 though, The Force Awakens is already making other blockbusters this year look paltry by comparison especially after grabbing the highest per-screen-average in history for a wide release – approximately $57,571 on 4,134 screens.
The two biggest moneymakers of the holiday season, Sony's SPECTRE ($193.9 million) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 ($254.2 million) have been out for seven and five weeks, respectively. The Force Awakens has already surpassed the former in three days and will pass the latter in no more than five days. Those Thursday night previews racked up an estimated $57 million alone. That was higher than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 ($43.5), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($27.6), The Avengers ($18.7) and Jurassic World ($18.5). Harry Potter's $91 million was the previous champion for a Thursday/Friday combined release. Now it belongs to The Force Awakens with $120.5 million. The Saturday & Sunday records belonged to Jurassic World with $69.6 & $57.2 million. And, well, at least Saturday still belongs to it as estimates put The Force between $65.5-68.7 million on Saturday and $48-52 million on Sunday bringing its weekend total to $238 million, over $30 million more than Jurassic World whose director, Colin Trevorrow, will get his shot to reclaim the throne when he helms Episode IX.
When The Phantom Menace opened back in 1999 it posted the second-highest three-day total in history. That's right – second! With $59.3 million. The top three-day opener at the time remained Steven Spielberg's The Lost World: Jurassic Park at $72.1 million. Those numbers are a little skewed each way as Episode I opened on a Wednesday and The Lost World opened over the Memorial Day holiday. Over their first five days, the much-maligned Phantom Menace bested Jurassic 2 $105.6 million to $95.8 million. Jurassic World's five-day total this year was over $258 million. The Force Awakens nearly has that in three.
In 2002, Attack of the Clones opened 13 days after the kickoff of the Spider-Man franchise. Once again, its five-day total was only the second all-time, trailing Sam Raimi's film's $135.8 million to $120.8 million. The Force Awakens made more than Episode II on Thursday/Friday alone. When it came to actual record-breaking though, 2005's Revenge of the Sith finally laid the competition to waste. Its first three-days (once again opening on Thursday) tallied $124.2 million which bested Spider-Man's $114.8 million. It ultimately came up short on its final gross, losing $403.7 million to $380.2 million, but it is still the 24th highest-grossing film in history though only 89th after inflation. Before inflation, though, you have the series ranked as follows: The Phantom Menace (6th), Star Wars (7th), Attack of the Clones (47th), Return of the Jedi (49th) and The Empire Strikes Back (65th). After one weekend, The Force Awakens is 107th all-time and will be reaching the Top 100 on the inflation list shortly.
But Seriously, How Much?
The Force Awakens marks the 34th film in history to post over $100 million over its first weekend. When Revenge of the Sith debuted in May 2005 there were only two – Spider-Man and Shrek 2. Since then we have had four Hunger Games, three Harry Potters and two each of The Dark Knight, Avengers, Iron Man, Transformers, Twilight and Pirates of the Caribbean to cross those marks. Not to mention another Spider-Man, another Shrek, an Indiana Jones, a Man of Steel, a Minions, a Fast & Furious, a Toy Story, an X-Men, and an Alice in Wonderland. It is the 6th film just this year to reach that milestone. 2010 & 2012 each had four reach. So the only question now is just how high it can climb.
Though we are dealing in unchartered waters with The Force Awakens being on top of just about every opening weekend record imaginable, we can still look at the previous Top 5 record holders to get the first clue to its ceiling. Over the course of the next seven days after its first weekend, Harry Potter 8.2 grossed 61.6% of its opening weekend. Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron each made 63.6% & 63.8%, respectively. The Avengers did 79.8% and Jurassic World did 92.9%. If we took that just as a rough average that would give The Force Awakens approximately $410 million by the end of next weekend, making it the 11th highest-grossing film of all-time (and 90th after inflation) in just 10 days. However, if we consider that the five films underneath them each did an increasing percentage from the bottom on up and we give The Force Awakens just a fraction above Jurassic World's next seven days that would give the film over $459 million. Roughly $57 million better than Jurassic World, 8th best all-time (73rd after inflation) and setting its sights on both Titanic and, ultimately, Avatar.
Can The Force Awakens Beat Avatar?
If we apply the same formula to each of the top five's third weeks at the box office you will find a remarkable consistency. Harry Potter 8.2 did 43% of its second weekend in that time. Iron Man 3 did 47.5%. Avengers: Age of Ultron did 48% and The Avengers' 51% just bested Jurassic World's 50.2%. Again, just taking an average there, The Force Awakens could conceivably be somewhere between $492-$564 million. By then the kids will be going back to school. A lot of their parents will be going to see The Hateful Eight and The Revenant. But it is not out of the realm of possibility. Not by a longshot. Word-of-mouth is strong. It received an "A" Cinemascore (better than any of the prequels) and a 95% at Rotten Tomatoes (the 6th best wide-release of 2015). Repeat viewing will be the key. That and a pretty week winter schedule. Avatar spent 14 straight weeks in the top ten. (Frozen spent 16.) Those are the only films to do 12 or more straight weeks since 2002. The Force Awakens has a shot at least at that.
Will it best Avatar's $760.5 million in the states or the $2.7 billion it did worldwide? It sits at $517 million as of now. While we wait its next record, you can always go out and see it again to give it a push.
The Record Recap
· Biggest Thursday preview gross with $57M.
· Biggest Friday and biggest single-day gross with $120.5M.
· First film ever to post a single day over $100M.
· Fastest film to $100M and $200M.
· Biggest December debut (nearly 3 times previous record of $84.6M).
· Biggest IMAX Thursday night preview ($5.7M), single-day ($14M, Friday), and weekend ($30.1M).
· Highest theater average for a wide release ($57,568).
· Biggest opening weekend of all time in UK (4-day), Australia, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Austria, Poland (3-day), Denmark (5-day), Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ukraine, Iceland, Serbia, New Zealand. Second biggest opening weekend in France, Belgium, Israel, Chile.
· Biggest IMAX global debut of $48M.
Erik Childress can be heard each week on the WGN Radio Podcast evaluating box office with Nick Digilio as well as on Business First AM with Angela Miles.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]