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A version of this story first appeared in the May 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
As one executive puts it, if Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t score the biggest debut ever when it hits theaters Dec. 18, he’ll “run up and down Sunset Boulevard naked.” So how high could J.J. Abrams‘ reboot fly? The top U.S. opening is The Avengers, which launched to $207.4 million in May 2012 from 4,349 theaters. Disney’s sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1), could become the new champ, but many believe Force Awakens has every chance of outrunning them both, even with the distraction of Christmas. Globally it could rake in nearly $540 million, topping the three-day record set by the final Harry Potter film ($483.2 million). “If it pleases the fans of the old movies and also appeals to kids, watch out,” says box-office analyst Phil Contrino.
Disney and Lucasfilm certainly are doing everything they can to create a mega-event. The second trailer, unveiled April 16 at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, generated a euphoric response. Amobee Brand Intelligence reports that digital consumption of the trailer vastly exceeded interest in Furious 7, which has grossed $1.15 billion in its first 19 days. Ditto for Fifty Shades of Grey, another worldwide blockbuster. Based on that data, Amobee is predicting a global debut of $533.2 million to $539.5 million.
Insiders say Force Awakens will get the widest release ever, meaning at least 4,500 locations in North America (Twilight: Eclipse went out in 4,468), although Disney won’t comment. The film faces little competition; the only other new title daring to open Dec. 18 is Sisters, Universal’s Tina Fey–Amy Poehler comedy. The most earned in any three-day period at the U.S. box office is $269 million Dec. 25-27 in 2009. Driving it was Avatar, which opened a week earlier to a respectable $77 million on its way to a record global haul of $2.8 billion. So Contrino is less intrigued with Star Wars‘ opening than its final outcome. “It’s in the same spot as Avatar, which played and played and played,” he says. “Force Awakens will hit $1 billion without blinking. If it’s really good, it could cross $2 billion.”
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