According to pal/mentor Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams was very, very nervous about how his Star Wars: The Force Awakens would perform at the box office. After all, Disney paid $4 billion to acquire the rights to all things Star Wars from George Lucas, footed Awakens' $350 million budget, and had green-lit two sequels to The Force Awakens and a handful of spin-off films prior to opening, including one focused on Han Solo, and one Boba Fett-oriented.
“Oh, J.J. is terrified,” Spielberg said. “There’s a lot of pressure on J.J. to start paying Disney back for, you know, the franchise they bought from George Lucas.”
Well, Abrams can rest easy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed an estimated $247 million at the domestic box office in its opening weekend, besting previous record holder Jurassic World, which made $208.8 million in its first frame earlier this year. According to Disney, 58 percent of the audience was male, 63 percent of the audience was 26 or older, and 47 percent of the film’s gross came from 3D screenings.
The first Star Wars film, which came out in 1977, made just $6,806,951 in its first weekend of wide release, which translates to $27,463,123 in 2015 dollars when adjusted for inflation. But it carried just 757 theaters, paling in comparison to The Force Awakens’ 4,134 screens—including many in IMAX and 3D. Still, The Force Awakens likely won’t come close to eclipsing the first Star Wars film’s adjusted-for-inflation domestic gross: $307,263,857 in 1977 dollars, which comes out to a mammoth $1,239,677,676.80 in 2015. And, barring a tectonic shift in the film industry, Gone with the Wind will always be the highest-grossing movie of all-time adjusted for inflation, with $198,676,459 in 1939, or $1,685,052,200 today—however, this number must be taken with a grain of salt because back then, box office gross was reported as a percentage of business for each theater in comparison to “normal” business.
But that shouldn’t take anything away from what The Force Awakens accomplished.
Back in the days of Gone with the Wind (1939) or Star Wars (1977), there was far less competition, with only a few movies released per weekend compared to the estimated 15-17 movies released every weekend in 2015. And RCA first introduced broadcast television to the New York metropolitan area on April 30, 1939, so precious few people owned TV sets and the home video market was nonexistent.
Disney erred on the side of caution, estimating that The Force Awakens would take in $220 million in its opening weekend, though box office prognosticators felt it could come in as high as $260-300 million given the studio’s ingenious two-year marketing campaign. The film also grossed $281 million abroad for a global opening weekend cume of $528 million, narrowly eclipsing Jurassic World’s $524.9 million worldwide bow in June.
And Abrams’ film broke a number of box office records. Before it even opened, the movie had grossed over $100 million in advance ticket sales (a new record), and shortly after it began showing to audiences at 7 p.m. on Thursday night, news broke that The Force Awakens had made $57 million in those Thursday night preview screenings—besting the $43 million earned by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in 2011.
Since its $57 million in Thursday night screenings technically count towards Friday’s box office total, the film became the first to cross $100 million in a single day, taking in a total of $120.5 million on Friday, besting the record previously set by the final Harry Potter film with $91 million.
The $247 million opening weekend for The Force Awakens in 4,134 theaters also made for the highest per theater average for a film with $59,748, outpacing the final Harry Potter film ($38,672). That $247 million bested the opening weekends of Jurassic World ($208.8 million), Marvel’s The Avengers ($207.4 million), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($191.2 million), and Iron Man 3 ($174.1 million). The rest of the Top 10 includes Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 ($169.1 million), The Dark Knight Rises ($160.8 million), The Dark Knight ($158.4 million), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ($158 million), and The Hunger Games ($152.5 million).
Most tent-pole films open during the summer—not December, when many kids are still in school—so The Force Awakens’ big number is even more impressive given this hurdle. The previous highest December opening was 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with $84.6 million in North America, and the biggest December worldwide gross was $250 million by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King back in 2003.
Furthermore, The Force Awakens set a new IMAX record with $30.1 million in North America and $48 million worldwide, beating the $44 million record set by Jurassic World, and also led to the biggest-ever opening weekends in the UK ($48.9 million), Germany ($27.3 million), Australia ($18.9 million), and Russia ($12.3 million). The film won’t open until January 9 in China, but is expected to do boffo biz there, too.
While The Force Awakens should easily surpass the $474.5 million domestic gross of 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, it may have a difficult time flying past the top three highest-grossing films of all-time in North America: Avatar ($760.5 million), Titanic ($658.6 million), and Jurassic World ($652.2 million). It also has a long way to go to crush the $2.78 billion worldwide record set by Avatar or Titanic's $2.186 billion in second place.
But in the immortal words of Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”