Disney Chief Downplays Huge 'Star Wars: Force Awakens' Opening Weekend Expectations

David James/Lucasfilm/Disney
'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

"There are a number of things that put this film in uncharted territory, literally uncharted territory, making it even more difficult than usual to predict what the opening weekend will be," Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn told THR a day before J.J. Abrams' tentpole is set to hit tracking.

The biggest guessing game in Hollywood is about to get even bigger.

On Tuesday, J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes on tracking for the first time, 24 days before its Dec. 18 nationwide release in North America. Many box-office pundits expect it to snatch the biggest domestic opening in history, besting the $208.8 million earned by Jurassic World in June.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that they expect tracking services to show Force Awakens, from Lucasfilm and Disney, opening in the $185 million to $220 million range, but that won't stop box-office experts from putting forth their own numbers.

Some even suggest the movie could cross $250 million and approach $300 million.

For Disney, that's a dangerous assumption, since films opening prior to Christmas have never sported huge launches, with consumers distracted by holiday shopping and travel. Plus, kids aren't out of school on the Friday that Force Awakens opens.

"There are a number of things that put this film in uncharted territory, literally uncharted territory, making it even more difficult than usual to predict what the opening weekend will be. Especially this far out from release with the bulk of our campaign ahead of us," Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn told THR as he and his studio try to manage expectations.

"It’s natural for people to want to view this and compare this to a summer blockbuster, but films in December don’t have the same historical release patterns as summer films. In December it’s rare to see a big debut — there’s only a handful above $70 million by the way, with the record being something like $84 million," Horn continued. "People are shopping, they’re traveling, they also know that their kids are going to be on vacation in a week and they’re going to all go see movies together."

To date, the biggest December bow is 2012's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, grossing $85 million over the Dec. 14–16 weekend. Instead, films debuting over the year-end holidays can see huge multiples. James Cameron's Avatar famously opened to just $77 million in 2009 on its way to becoming the top-grossing film of all time ,with $2.8 billion globally, a record it still holds.

Still, the clamor over Force Awakens is hardly unwarranted. The tentpole has already racked up north of $50 million in advance ticket sales.

That's double the previous record set by The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 with $25 million. Imax alone accounts for a third of all ticket sales, according to sources.

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