Bombs and Blockbusters Special Forecast – ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

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This is it. The big one. The one we’ve all been waiting for for months upon months. Endless speculation, predictions, comparisons, leaks, and questions have all lead up to the most anticipated film of all time: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Expectations have been all over the board. Several months ago it seemed like it would be in the $150M range due to the December release date, but at this point (5 hours before the early showings begin) it seems like all bets are off and it’s guaranteed to be the highest opening ever.

Which, yeah, it pretty much is.

However, if this film does open under $200M, there will certainly be some calling it a disappointment, which is obviously not the case. Even though it’s likely going to be massively frontloaded this weekend, it can still hold on well over the next month or so. After browsing tickets yesterday looking at all the reserved seating, it’s hard to find an IMAX screen that isn’t more than half full. The film is selling phenomenally well on Fandango, with over $100M in the US alone – most of which is for this weekend and Christmas day. However, it’s probably still going to be number one until mid January – possibly even longer depending on how well it holds. At this point, a domestic gross over $600M practically seems like a lock (something I don’t get to say very often).

Disney has done a fantastic job building expectations and generally preventing spoilers (even though it’s too late for me, go to hell 4chan) the 95% Rotten Tomatoes score is sure to help, and it’s going to attract pretty much every type of crowd; little kids who already know the franchise, teenagers who grew up with it, young adults who may have seen the Special Editions in the theaters, etc etc.  Episode IV may not have been the highest grossing film of all time, but its pretty much undeniably had the biggest cultural impact. A new Gone with the Wind sequel isn’t going to sell $100M in pre-sale tickets.

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So just what is limiting the gross of Star Wars? Well, for 99% of films, the problem is trying to get as many people as possible to show up, but in the case of Star Wars, it’s a problem of theaters trying to fill as much demand as possible. Most IMAX screenings for opening night are already sold out, which will likely turn away fans who wanted to see it on the biggest and best screens possible. If there was an unlimited number of showings and seats available, than I would easily say that this could do $300M, but unfortunately thats simply not possible. With a release in 4,134 theaters, it’s not like anyone is going to have to look far to find it.

 

The film will also benefit from repeated viewings, as many fans will want to see it multiple times in its theatrical run. Really, there’s too many factors to throw in to make a reasonable estimation. As someone who isn’t a megafan, I’m pretty much looking at it from as unbiased and analytical as I can, but it’s kind of hard to not get caught up in all the crazy excitement, considering I’m more excited to see how this does financially than actually see the film. This is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime release, that may only be topped by the next two consecutive sequels.

Now that I’ve banged out half a thousand words about Star Wars, it’s time to talk about the other two releases. Yes, believe it or not, there are other movies playing this weekend, namely Sisters and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. Both of these are what we in the business like to call ‘counterprogramming’, something that opens against a big film that targets a smaller audience. In addition to this, Sisters may benefit from spillover audiences who got sold out of Star Wars but want to see something anyway.

Going by the marketing, Sisters is essentially Neighbors with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. They’re very popular in their TV careers, but haven’t exactly found big theatrical success. The other collaboration they were involved with was Baby Mama, which grossed just $60M in its domestic run, and doesn’t exactly have a great reputation. In their solo outings, Fey found little success in Admission or This is Where I Leave You, both of which made under $35M domestically. Poehler doesn’t really have any live action major releases to go under, so this is a first. The film is probably going to hold very well (there’s no reason why it shouldn’t) and should end up with over $50M. Look for it to be in the low teens this weekend.

Finally, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. The fourth, yes, fourth film in the long running franchise hits theaters this weekend, but it’s easily going to be the lowest grossing franchise by far. The target audience is almost exclusively younger siblings who are either too young or not interested in Star Wars, but that audience might not be as big as expected. Even with the PG-13 rating, parents trust the brand enough to know that it is kid friendly. Meaning, essentially, that this is probably going to be widely ignored. There’s no way around it, Star Wars is like a tidal wave that’s crushing everything in its path. Even holdovers from previous weekends that don’t have the same target audience are going to get destroyed this weekend.

In limited release, Son of Saul is going to be playing in just 3 theaters. With excellent reviews and buzz around festivals, it’s safe to say that this should end up with a fantastic per theater average. However, it’s a foreign film about the holocaust, so it won’t be going wide any time soon.

Weekend Predictions

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – $225M
  2. Sisters – $13M
  3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip – $9.5M
  4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – $5.4M
  5. In the Heart of the Sea – $4.7M

Bar for Success

It’s kind of hard to constitute what is and what isn’t a ‘success’ for a film like this considering theres exactly zero chance this isn’t profitable. I’m going to say that anything over $175M is enough to match the hype, though the odds of this doing under $200M seems more or less impossible. I have a really hard time believing that more people were interested in seeing Avengers Age of Ultron than a new Star Wars movie.

For Sisters, a low teens start is good, whereas Alvin and the Chipmunks is good at $15M.

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