‘Star Wars’ blasts the opening weekend record with takings of US$238 mil. in North America


By Lindsey Bahr, AP

LOS ANGELES–To say that the force is strong with this one is an understatement.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” brought in a galactic US$238 million over the weekend, making it the biggest North American debut of all time according to studio estimates on Sunday.

The Walt Disney Co. earnings destroy the previous opening record set by Universal’s “Jurassic World,” which drew US$208.8 million this summer.

Internationally, the film brought in US$279 million, bringing its global gross to US$517 million — second only to “Jurassic World’s” global bow of US$525 million. But the dinosaurs had the added benefit of China — “Star Wars” won’t open there until Jan. 9. This is just the latest in a laundry list of records set by J.J. Abrams’ film, the seventh in the franchise, which had analysts anticipating a debut anywhere from US$150 million to US$300 million.

The “X-factor” was quality. While “The Force Awakens” drew enormous pre-sales, the film was kept under lockdown from the press and critics until mere days before it was released to the public. Reviews turned out to be stellar (95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), as did early audience reaction, who gave the film an A CinemaScore.

Rentrak’s Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian said that’s the key element that may push the film to the US$2 billion mark by the end of its run. Many are already going back for a second helping.

“The enthusiasm has really turned into a cultural event,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s executive vice president of theatrical distribution. “It’s unbelievable.”

“It feels historic. The marketing team has embarked on a two-plus year journey to create this event feel,” Hollis added. “It’s hard to think you could replicate this, but never say never.”

Males overwhelmingly drove the astronomical earnings, comprising 58 percent of the audience.

“Many of the bigger films of the past few years have been driven by that often marginalized female audience,” Dergarabedian said. “This proves that if you put the right film in the marketplace, the guys will show up in big numbers. You can still break records with one gender being the dominant one.”

He predicted that over time, Daisy Ridley’s protagonist may help even the gender breakdown. Hollis agreed, noting that the breakdown evened out across the weekend too. Friday audiences were 63 percent male, he said.

The film also drew mainly adults, who made up 71 percent of the audience. Teens accounted for only 9 percent, but those numbers may go up in the coming weeks as holiday vacations kick in.

IMAX, 3D and other premium large format screens further helped drive the massive earnings. Nearly half of moviegoers — 47 percent —chose to see the film on the generally pricier screens. IMAX screens alone accounted for US$48 million of the global earnings.