Hark: the box of­fice awak­ens

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODMOVIES - RYAN NAKASHIMA

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


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