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A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been in theaters less than a month but has already more than revived the classic sci-fi franchise with a record-breaking $1.75 billion box-office haul. Disney and Lucasfilm’s seventh chapter in the space-opera saga has quickly notched the third-highest box-office gross of all time. And it is now on track to sink James Cameron’s 1997 adventure-romance Titanic — which earned $2.19 billion in ticket sales (including $200 million made when the film was re-released in 2012) — for the No. 2 spot.
But the Oscar-winning director looks set to maintain bragging rights: Force Awakens likely won’t topple the $2.79 billion Cameron’s 2009 fantasy Avatar earned to become the world’s top-grossing film. Why? Force isn’t as strong in parts of Asia and Latin America, where Star Wars doesn’t have the same legacy as it does in North America and more mature markets. It’s also a faster burn, meaning it likely won’t stay in theaters as long as Avatar did.
Domestically, Force Awakens already has shot past Avatar ‘s $760.5 million to become the No. 1 film of all time with more than $815 million in receipts to date. Overseas, analysts say current projections show it will top out at $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion for a payout in the $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion range. (More bullish forecasts say $2.4 billion.) That would include north of $900 million domestically.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens made its first billion in a record 12 days and has added another $700 million-plus in an additional 14 days. As in all box-office trajectories, the higher the altitude, the tougher it becomes to rack up sales at the kind of breakneck pace as in the beginning of the run,” says Rentrak’s Paul Dergarabedian.
Adds Dergarabedian: “No matter what, the film is an absolute, all-out blockbuster without peer in terms of the sheer speed at which it has crossed all of these major box-office milestones. With very few box-office frontiers to conquer, including the $1 billion mark in North America, and a penciled-in reservation in the exclusive $2 billion club, if Force Awakens winds up sandwiched between the two biggest movies of all-time, Avatar and Titanic, no one associated with the film will be singing the Jedi blues. They’ll be celebrating this dream scenario result.”
Avatar, released in late 2009, earned an astounding $2 billion internationally, where it played for months.
A huge question for Force Awakens is China, where it opened Jan. 9 to a record-breaking $53 million. Analysts covering China believe it could ultimately earn $200 million to $300 million in the Middle Kingdom.
Even if it doesn’t become the top-grossing film of all time, Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners says Force Awakens is a giant victory for Disney, which paid George Lucas $4 billion for Lucasfilm in order to get its hands on the iconic franchise and hit the restart button.
“It’s been a great month for Disney. You have a movie that is going to gross $2.2 billion or $2.3 billion at the box office and you haven’t even gotten to home entertainment. And then there’s the $600 million in consumer products revenue. And they are building Star Wars Land at Disneyland,” Handler says. “It’s fueling so much within the Disney eco-structure.
Handler says Force Awakens is already generating huge interest in spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which hits theaters Dec. 16. Star Wars: Episode VIII opens a little more than five months later on May 26.
“Star Wars mania,” he adds, “is running wild.”
Andy Lewis contributed to this report.
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