‘Star Wars’: Disney Chief Tries to Temper Box Office Expectations

     November 23, 2015

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It’s no secret that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is guaranteed to dominate the box office when it arrives in theaters December 18th. The release is weeks away yet the film has already raked in $50 million in pre-sale ticket purchases. It is the one full-blown blockbuster release coming out in a season full of ‘prestige’ films mainly concerned with vying for Oscars. The Ron Howard-directed In The Heart of the Sea bows the week before Star Wars arrives, along with the star-clad The Big Short, featuring Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale. The second weekend of Star Wars’ run will see the arrival of the highly-anticipated The Revenant, which features Leonardo DiCaprio and serves as director Alejandro Inarritu’s follow-up to Birdman, along with the Jennifer Lawrence vehicle Joy. And that same weekend also welcomes the release of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, albeit in very limited release.

Now, as mentioned, several of these films are highly anticipated, but they just won’t be able to compete for the same audience against Star Wars, and certainly don’t have box-office record-setting in mind. So dismissing the possibility that the team-up of either Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in Sisters or Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell in Daddy’s Home punch above their weights, Star Wars has a clear run to rake in a lot of money.


star-wars-force-awakens-poster-rey-daisy-ridleyYet it’s not always a benefit to have such high expectations, as the recent Hunger Games can attest. Even though the film made $101 million during its opening weekend, it was seen as an underwhelming showing because it didn’t match or exceed the opening of its previous installments. Now, too much shouldn’t be read into one weekend, but given that studios are investing so much into fewer films that represent big properties, the bottom line becomes that much more reliant on their showings, and opening weekends present good indicators.

However, Disney is attempting to manage such expectations as its opening weekend approaches. Speaking with THR, Studio Chairman Alan Horn addressed the latest tracking reports for the film, which will be announced tomorrow and expect to range from $180 million to $220 million. But, as we have previously reported, others believe it could climb closer to $250 million or even $300 million. Any of those numbers would represent a record for a December release, as the current record sits at a mere $85 million, held by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The magical number, of course, is $208.8 million, which represents the biggest domestic opening in history, achieved this past summer by Jurassic World. $85 million is a long way from $300 million, and Disney doesn’t want the perception of ‘underperforming’ to enter the narrative of the film. As Horn states,

“It’s natural for people to want to view this and compare this to a summer blockbuster, but films in December don’t have the same historical release patterns as summer films. In December it’s rare to see a big debut. People are shopping, they’re traveling, they also know that their kids are going to be on vacation in a week and they’re going to all go see movies together.”

He has a point. It is in a unique situation, with not much precedence. Although one case of comparison happens to be the top-grossing film of all time, Avatar. Star Wars certainly has an opportunity to, literally, give it a run for its money. But keep in mind that Avatar opened in 2009 to an impressive but by no means earth-shattering $77 million, then still went on to earn $2.8 billion and set the all-time record (when you don’t adjust for inflation).  And it had the benefit of people’s heightened interest in 3D. So even if Star Wars has a slow start, don’t let that fool you. This thing will have legs. The question now is, how big of a head start will it get?


For more of our Star Wars coverage, peruse the recent links below:

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Image via Disney

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Image via Disney

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Image via Disney


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