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This story first appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t open in the U.S. until Dec. 18, but the ticket-buying frenzy is putting Disney and Lucasfilm in the enviable but still challenging situation of managing expectations.
Online sales began Oct. 19 for J.J. Abrams‘ sequel based on George Lucas‘ series, even before the full trailer debuted on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, with ticket sites like Fandango crashing under demand fueled by social media buzz. According to Twitter, between 11 a.m. Oct. 19 and 11 a.m. Oct. 20, there were 1.1 million Star Wars-related tweets.
By the morning of Oct. 20, Fandango had recorded record presales, selling eight times as many tickets as it did on the opening day of sales for the first Hunger Games movie. Imax, which will show the film in about 390 theaters domestically, sold around $6.5 million worth of tickets in 12 hours — it previously never had sold more than $1 million a day in presales. In less than 12 hours, AMC sold out more than 1,000 shows nationwide, setting its own record (its Imax auditoriums accounted for 38 percent of sales). When all presales are tallied, Force Awakens almost certainly will smash the record of $25 million in advance sales for The Dark Knight Rises in 2012.
The biggest problem now may be overhype and reassuring fans that seats still are available for opening weekend and beyond. Twelve AMC locations nationwide will show the movie around the clock when it debuts, and the chain says “there are still plenty of opening-night seats available at all AMC locations.” Many Imax theaters were selling tickets only for the first four days, ensuring more will be available closer to release. “We’re seeing sellouts across the board — from Hollywood to London to Sparks, Nev., and everywhere in between,” says Imax CEO Greg Foster. Adds Amy Miles, CEO at Regal Entertainment Group, “The anticipation for Force Awakens [has] exploded.” Tickets even are on eBay, with offers ranging from $100 to $1,500 for tickets to iPic Theaters in Pasadena.
It all amounts to a coup for Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, but it further raises the stakes for Force Awakens‘ box-office expectations. Most now believe it will secure the biggest North American opening of all time, racing past the $208.8 million earned in June by Jurassic World. The biggest December bow is 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($85 million). Some believe Force could open to $300 million domestic and north of $600 million globally (well ahead of Jurassic‘s $524.4 million), but such high hopes could lead to disappointment if the film doesn’t deliver. Still, says Rentrak analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Disney’s massive-hype strategy, “If you didn’t do it this way, you’d be leaving a lot of money on the table.”
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