Fri | Mar 23, 2018

Star Wars blasts into history

Published:Monday | December 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Star Wars fans gather underneath the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday to wage a lightsabre battle in Seattle.
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca (left) and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams.
R2-D2 (left) and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO in a scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.


To say that the force is strong with this one is an understatement.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought in a galactic US$238 million over the weekend, making it the biggest North American debut of all time according to studio estimates yesterday.

The Walt Disney Co earnings destroy the previous opening record set by Universal's Jurassic World, which drew US$208.8 million this summer.

This is just the latest in a laundry list of records set by J.J. Abrams' film, the seventh in the franchise, which had analysts anticipating a debut anywhere from US$150 million to US$300 million.

The 'X-factor' was quality. While The Force Awakens drew enormous pre-sales, the film was kept under lockdown from the press and critics until mere days before it was released to the public. Reviews turned out to be stellar (95 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes), as did early audience reaction, which gave the film an A CinemaScore.

Rentrak's senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said that's the key element that may push the film to the US$2 billion mark by the end of its run. Many are already going back for a second helping.

"The enthusiasm has really turned into a cultural event," said Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice-president of Theatrical Distribution. "It's unbelievable."

"It feels historic. The marketing team has embarked on a two-plus year journey to create this event feel," Hollis added. "It's hard to think you could replicate this, but never say never."

Males overwhelmingly drove the astronomical earnings, comprising 58 per cent of the audience.

"Many of the bigger films of the past few years have been driven by that often marginalised female audience," Dergarabedian said. "This proves that if you put the right film in the marketplace, the guys will show up in big numbers. You can still break records with one gender being the dominant one."

He predicted that over time Daisy Ridley's protagonist may help even the gender breakdown. Hollis agreed, noting that the breakdown evened out across the weekend too. Friday audiences were 63 per cent male, he said.


The film also drew mainly adults, who made up 71 per cent of the audience. Teens accounted for only nine per cent, but those numbers may go up in the coming weeks as holiday vacations kick in.

IMAX, 3D and other premium large-format screens further helped drive the massive earnings. Nearly half of moviegoers - 47 per cent - chose to see the film on the generally pricier screens.

However, Star Wars didn't fly alone this weekend. A few other movies attempted to provide some counterprogramming and ended up with comparatively decent results.

Almost a galaxy away, Fox's animated Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip came in second with US$14.4 million.

According to exit polls, 70 per cent of audiences comprised families. The film also played to a rather diverse audience, with 22 per cent Hispanics and 19 per cent African-Americans.

"Starting on Monday (today) 73 per cent of K through 12 is out of school. Why wouldn't we make our picture available?" said Chris Aronson, Fox's president of Domestic Distribution, as to why they released their film "in the teeth of the hurricane".

"Star Wars is the phenomenon it is and will continue to be, but there is another segment of the audience out there," he added.

In third place the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Sisters earned an estimated US$13.4 million out of the gates. A whopping 79 per cent of audiences were female for the R-rated comedy - a solid indicator that the counterprogramming against Star Wars was in fact a wise choice.

"A healthy box office needs something for everyone," said Nick Carpou, Universal's president of Domestic Distribution, who expects a solid performance for the comedy in the weeks to come.

Rounding out the top five were The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, with US$5.7 million and Creed with US$5.1 million.

This is the biggest overall weekend in box office history, with combined grosses north of US$300 million, putting 2015 in range of becoming the first US$11 billion year in history.

"We're on the verge of a record-breaking year," Dergarabedian said. "I think we're going to do it."

Following are the estimated ticket sales for Friday through yesterday at US and Canadian cinema, according to Rentrak.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, US$238m

2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, US$14.4m

3. Sisters, US$13.4m

4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, US$5.7m

5. Creed, US$5.1m

6. The Good Dinosaur, US$4.2m

7. Krampus, US$3.8m

8. In the Heart of the Sea, US$3.5m

9. Diwale, US$1.9m

10. Bajirao Mastani, US$1.7m