It took only 90 seconds of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to make the film, the seventh episode in the series and the first produced by new Lucasfilm owner Disney, a massive financial success. In 24 hours, the second teaser trailer, premiered at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in April, was viewed 88 million times worldwide. In the first two hours of its release, Disney stock's overall company valuation skyrocketed up by $2 billion.
So yes, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is and will be a massive success. But will its actual theatrical release surpass the rest of 2015's blockbuster releases?
Signs point, right now, to probably.
There are two different things to consider when looking at a movie's success in the theater: Domestic gross, meaning how much money it made in ticket sales in the U.S., and Worldwide gross, which includes the rest of the international market. The former has usually been considered more important by Hollywood studios; in the domestic market, they control marketing and distribution, so they are spending less to put a movie into theaters, and they make a larger share of the profits. In the international market, studios are usually (but less in recent years) farming out distribution rights to local-to-those-countries companies, as well as marketing, resulting in lower profit shares.
In recent years, however, they international market has shown exponential growth, especially in the big budget blockbuster. Take a look at 2015's current box office leaders. Avengers: Age of Ultron has taken over as the domestic gross leader after only three weekends of release, sitting at the top of the charts with $380.8 million at press time. That put it over the top of Furious 7, which opened a month earlier, and sits at $344.6 million. No other film has broken even the two hundred million mark, and therefore the rest get left out of this conversation. But worldwide gross is a different story; well, it's different in parts – those two are the only 2015 releases worthy of conversation, as they're the only ones to even be in the top 100 all-time worldwide grosses. But while Age of Ultron has already passed the $1 billion mark with $1.151 billion total so far, Furious 7 has proven a more interesting anomaly: only 23% of its gross is domestic, resulting in $1.49 billion so far worldwide, and leaving it only $30 million shy of passing the first Avengers film for third all-time. Most major releases of the last fifteen years (which also comprise 18 of the worldwide gross leaders in the top 21) hover between 33% and as high as 53% in domestic gross.
And so, the worldwide gross has become the real topic of conversation. It's no longer, "Will a movie hit $300 million domestic?" and instead the bar is, "Will the blockbuster it $1 billion worldwide?" The elusive juggernaut of Avatar's $2.788 billion may be all-but-unreachable, but chances are the next $2 billion film will win its year.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens could very well be the next $2 billion worldwide grosser. The first major indicator is the release window. When Furious 7 hit, it was relatively unimpeded by other major releases until Age of Ultron one month later. Ultron had (and has) a much harder challenge, with Mad Max: Fury Road competing for the same audience just two weeks later, and Disney's own Tomorrowland sure to pull some eyeballs away this weekend, only three after Ultron's release. WB's Dwayne Johnson-led action epic San Andreas makes it three straight weeks with action blockbuster releases, and only two weeks later Universal drops Jurassic World, the quasi-reboot-sequel that carries more current star power than the last few mentioned. The summer, indeed, rarely slows down, with sequels, reboots, and comic films galore, plus slightly less on-the-radar films like Magic Mike XXL, Minions, and Pixar's Inside Out that shouldn't be ignored.
What all this competition, and weekly or at best biweekly releases of major, tentpole, action blockbusters means is a stiff uphill climb for any one of them to be a record-setter or even hit that new $1 billion success standard.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has no such battle. Being released the week before Christmas, it hits the tail end of the Oscar hopeful dramas, and the relative "let's see what happens" month of January follows it. When the closest thing to a direct competitor is a Point Break remake coming out a week later, you're generally in pretty good shape.
It also doesn't hurt than in pure dollars (note: adjusted for inflation the original Star Wars made 1.159 billion dollars in the domestic market alone), the last of the prequels (and last Star Wars film to be released) Revenge of the Sith was the second highest grosser both domestic and worldwide. Domestic, in 2005, it pulled in over $380 million. Comparing that to the above, Furious 7, toward the end of its staying power, is at only $344 mil. While Ultron has eclipsed that and should top off well above $400 million, it's still significant. With Revenge of the Sith, the Star Wars franchise was coming off one of the most poorly-reviewed films in its history. While it had the promise of seeing Darth Vader finally emerge, there wasn't much else to make audiences hopeful – yet they came out in droves.
With The Force Awakens, that missing promise has been found. Whether it's the hot actor of the moment Oscar Isaac, who will surely pull in new viewers to the franchise, or the nostalgia-fueled excitement of Han Solo uttering "Chewie, we're home" at the end of the second teaser trailer, there seems to be something for everyone. The modern marketing machine needs to be taken into account as well: Star Wars now has a hit cartoon on Disney XD to promote the film, plus a major video game releasing one month earlier from the proven shooter masters at DICE/EA. Hasbro, Lucasfilm/Disney's primary partner for Star Wars toys is so confident in their upcoming The Force Awakens toys that they sent out calendars counting down the days to the announcement of those toys (September 4, 2015 for those keeping track), calling it "Force Friday." They are promoting the announcement of toys as if it is the film's release. This all started in earnest, of course, with a major convention in Anaheim (Disney's home), with international attendance and reveals galore. There will not be a time between now and December 18, 2015 that potential moviegoers won't be thinking about Star Wars for more than a week or two at a time, and that will result in higher ticket sales.0comments
The international market can't be ignored, either. With on-location shooting reminiscent of the original trilogy, well-promoted practical effects, and even the hiring of droid engineers at the international edition of Celebration in Germany, there will be a higher-than-average support for this Star Wars film compared to the rest of its franchise history.
Much harsher competition in the summer than winter, eight months of Disney marketing including new comics, books, toys, video games, and season two of an already hit TV show adding in Darth Vader, and a potent mixture of nostalgia plus current it-factor stars seems to all but assure that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be a huge hit. If it survives reviews and the first season with a high rating, then the additions of an increased worldwide audience, plus 3D and IMAX screens will easily take it over the top. Will Star Wars: The Force Awakens be the biggest movie of 2015? "Through the Force, things you will see. Other place. The future… the past." This particular future isn't too cloudy, though.