Hark: the box office awakens
RIDING galaxy-sized expectations, the new Star Wars movie is already setting records for pre-opening ticket sales, with less than a month to go. But does that mean the movie is destined to be the biggest yet?
Although several signs point in that direction, the outcome isn’t guaranteed.
The movie is on track to have the biggest December opening, topping The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, which took in $85 million in the US and Canada on its opening weekend in December 2012.
Ticket seller Fandango says advance ticket sales for Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens has already topped every other movie, though it didn’t provide figures.
Imax says it has sold $18 million domestically, double the previous record. Imax receipts account for a third of pre-release sales for this movie, putting the domestic total at more than $50m.
Whether it bests the biggest grosser – Avatar, with $2.8 billion worldwide – depends on word of mouth and whether fans love it enough to watch it many times through the new year.
Star Wars will have the advantage of having weak competition for months. Marvel’s Deadpool doesn’t come out until mid-February, while Warner’s Batman v Superman – Dawn of Justice isn’t out until late March.
“I think it’s going to own Janu- ary,” said Erik Davis, managing editor of Fandango, one of the nation’s largest online ticket retailers. “I know one guy who has nine tickets to see it in the first week alone.”
Social media activity is also off the charts, according to entertainment news website Moviepilot Inc.
Exactly a month from release, The Force Awakens had 405 million trailer and teaser views on Face- book and YouTube. That’s 87 percent more than Jurassic World, which opened domestically with a record $208.8m in ticket sales and owns the all-time No 3 spot with $1.7bn worldwide. No 2 is Titanic, at $2.1bn.
What’s more, the 178 000 weekly searches for the movie on Google is more than three times as high as Jurassic World, which had 51 800 weekly searches a month from release, according to Moviepilot.
“People are searching and craving and demanding content,” Moviepilot chief executive Tobi Bauckhage said. “That’s a very strong signal.”
December releases tend to be smaller than in mid-year, so coming out on top may take a marathon rather than a sprint.
One thing Avatar had going for it – it rode a wave of consumer interest in 3D, which costs a few dollars more than regular tickets. That frenzy has largely cooled off. Traditionalists with a nostalgia for the originals might prefer 2D screenings, especially with director JJ Abrams’ use of more realistic-looking special effects, like puppetry.
Walt Disney, which owns Star Wars- maker Lucasfilm, declined to comment.
Advance sales don’t always equate to record grosses. The first instalment of The Hunger Games was the leader in advance sales, but topped out at a worldwide gross of $693m, not even in the all-time Top 10.
What The Force Awakens benefits from, however, is interest that now spans generations.
The movie also has a much bigger Chinese box office to tap. Avatar pulled down a monstrous $204m in China in 2010, but the cinema market there is now at least three times as big.
The big unknown is that no one’s actually yet seen the movie.
It could make the difference between the so-so reaction to the Star Wars prequels in Episodes 1 to 3 – with heavily parodied characters like Jar Jar Binks and videogame-like action scenes – and the satisfying revival that fans are hoping for.
“The brand name alone and the excitement for the franchise will get huge numbers in the door,” Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “But for very longterm prospects, you have to have a movie that delivers.”
● The Force Awakens is out in SA on December 16 – ANA-AP
MARKETING FRENZY: Visitors encounter a Yoda plush toy in the business class section during a tour of the
All Nippon Airways ANA R2-D2 Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft at Singapore’s Changi Airport.