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J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens is making history at the worldwide box office, landing the biggest Friday of all time in North America with $120.5 million and crossing $250 million globally in just three days.
Box office observers say Force Awakens, graced with an A CinemaScore and rave reviews, could climb as high as $240 million-$245 million by weekend’s end domestically. Either way, it’s destined to eclipse the $208.8 million North American debut of Jurassic World this summer and set a new record. Disney and Lucasfilm are erring on the side of caution, projecting $220 million.
Early Saturday returns show Force Awakens grossing at least $60 million for the day, a massive number considering many consumers are occupied with pre-Christmas preparations. To date, the biggest Saturday belongs to Jurassic World ($69.6 million).
Force Awakens also has a shot at claiming the top global bow of all time, besting Jurassic World‘s $524.9 million, although Jurassic World had the benefit of opening day and date in China (Force Awakens doesn’t launch in the world’s second-biggest moviegoing market until Jan. 9).
In North America, this weekend looks to be the biggest in history in terms of overall revenue, crossing $300 million for the first time ever. Friday’s $120.5 million haul for Force Awakens includes a record-breaking $57 million in Thursday night previews.
The previous Thursday night champ was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ Part 2, the final film in the franchise, which earned $43.5 million in Thursday previews in July 2011. Deathly Hallows 2 also held the record for the biggest Friday until now ($91 million).
The Force Awakens, directed by Abrams, began showing at 7 p.m. Thursday, with 3D making up a big 47 percent of the night. IMAX screenings were also a new record, earning $5.7 million from 391 screens, nearly doubling the previous record of $3 million.
The film is drawing a heavily male audience (Friday’s tally was 71 percent), according to Rentrak’s exit poll service, PostTrak. Force Awakens — featuring a strong female heroine — is broadening out as the weekend unfolds; by Saturday, 67 percent of the audience was male, and 33 percent female, according to PostTrak. The majority of ticket buyers are between the ages of 18 and 24 (33 percent) and 25 and 34 (29 percent). Overall, 47 percent is under the age of 25, and 53 percent over.
Abrams’ film is also smashing records overseas, where it has amassed a stunning $129.5 million in its first three days. It scored the biggest single day and biggest opening day in key markets including the U.K. ($14.4 million) and Germany ($7.1 million), where it rolled out Thursday. And it scored the top opening day in another raft of countries including Australia ($6.8 million), and the biggest opening day for December in territories including Mexico ($3.4 million).
Among major markets, the U.K. leads so far with a two-day total of $24.7 million, followed by Germany ($12.7 million), France ($11.1 million), Australia ($10.4 million) and Mexico ($5.7 million).
Abrams’ sequel/reboot, set 30 years after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi, is playing in 4,134 theaters in North America, the widest December release of all time.
The story centers on a young scavenger (Daisy Ridley) and a stormtrooper (John Boyega) who end up facing a rising evil that includes a new planet-killing laser cannon. The film also stars Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o and Domhnall Gleeson along with original trilogy stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.
Heading into the weekend, prerelease tracking suggested Force Awakens would earn in the $180 million-$220 million range. December isn’t known for monster numbers because of pre-Christmas preparations (to date, the biggest December launch belongs to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with $84.6 million). Instead, movies can enjoy huge multiples over the year-end holidays, including the two top-grossing films of all time, 2009’s Avatar ($2.8 billion) and 1997’s Titanic ($2.2 billion).
Force Awakens is a critical darling, sporting a 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of Friday. And 94 percent of those polled by Rentrak gave it a positive response, an unheard-of stat. In addition, 88 percent said they would definitely recommend it to a friend.
The two films daring to open against Force Awakens are Universal’s raunchy, R-rated comedy Sisters and Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. The two films are pacing to open in the $14 million-$15 million range, not necessarily a bad number considering the competition. Both movies hope to serve as counter-programming throughout the holidays; Alvin 4, of course, is targeting families, while Sisters is going after females, who make up 76 percent of the audience so far.
Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, grossed $4.9 million Friday from 2,961 theaters for a projected $14 million weekend. Alvin 4, nabbing an A- CinemaScore, grossed $4.1 million from 3,653 locations. The family film is expected to pull ahead of Sisters on Saturday and finish the weekend with $14.5 million.
Dec. 18, 2 p.m. Updated with Friday and weekend estimates.
Dec. 18, 5:50 p.m. Updated.
Dec. 19, 8:25 a.m. Updated with Friday numbers.
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