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Disney and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens will get the widest December release in history this weekend: It will play in more than 4,100 theaters.
That includes 3,300 3D locations, 392 Imax screens (a record number), 451 premium large-format screens and 146 D-Box locations.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) is the current December record-holder (4,045 locations). The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which hit theaters in late June 2010, boasts the widest release of all time (4,468 theaters). December is a more crowded corridor, however, so Force Awakens was never expected to set an overall record. Also, drive-in and other seasonal theaters are closed.
Force Awakens‘ box-office potential has become an intense guessing game. Tracking suggests it will open to $180 million to $220 million domestically, well north of the record $85 million debut of Unexpected Journey in December 2012.
The weekend before Christmas often sees many consumers distracted with travel, shopping and general holiday preparations; hence, the year-end holidays aren’t known for big openings. Rather, movies that bow over the holidays can see huge multiples, including the two top-grossing films of all time, 2009’s Avatar ($2.8 billion) and 1997’s Titanic ($2.2 billion).
This summer, Jurassic World set a new threshold in North America when opening to $208.8 million domestically. More bullish box-office observers believe Force Awakens could set a new mark.
Directed by J.J. Abrams, Force Awakens — which stages its world premiere Monday night in Los Angeles — begins rolling out Thursday night before playing everywhere Friday.
The pic will bow in nearly every major market this week. The one exception is China, where it won’t debut until Jan. 9.
The two other films daring to open opposite Star Wars this weekend are Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and Universal comedy Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Both are tracking to open in the mid-teen millions.
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Samuel L. Jackson