BOP Staff Star Wars Predictions
By BOP Staff
December 17, 2015
Kim Hollis: The time has come to discuss Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Let's lay out the numbers. The current record-holder for December is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It earned $84.6 million when it opened on December 14, 2012. We know that traditionally, December is statistically a time for smaller openings but long, long legs.
The biggest opener of all-time is Jurassic World, which debuted to $208.8 million in June of this year.
What do you think is the outlook for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Please show your work/logic behind your numbers.
Ben Gruchow: I'm looking back at the pre-release expectations for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to answer this, and there are a couple of parallels (beyond the fact that each one of them broke/is going to break the December opening-weekend record). Both of them are 10-years-later (plus or minus one year) sequels to the last installment of their relevant franchise. In both cases, none of the preceding three films in the franchise grossed less than $300 million domestically. Both of them are four-quadrant, well-budgeted effects fantasies that appeal to a broad swath of the population while representing something quite a bit more intense to a smaller subsect of the population--one that sees more profundity at play in the material.
It's this last property that affects the outlook for The Force Awakens the most, in two ways. The shorter, simpler-to-explain way represents the last point of similarity between this and Hobbit 1: both of them were heavily overestimated for both their opening weekends and their domestic finishes. In the final days before release for Hobbit 1, as reviews started to trickle in (and arguably a little bit of Hobbit fatigue in general), predictions started to come back down to earth a bit...but we're talking about coming down from $130-140 million to $100-110 million, and we all know what the actual opening weekend was.
The movie was overestimated because of the heat and volume generated by a portion of a built-in audience, and the movie didn't expand much beyond that built-in audience. Star Wars ticket sales in raw numbers dwarf the Middle-Earth franchise, but most of those tickets come from a very different movie-going environment from several decades ago. I don't think we can judge either opening weekend or domestic gross by what the OT films did. Or the prequels, really; the population's movie-going habits had started to shift by then, but they hadn't yet accelerated to nearly where they are today.
The other way this last property affects TFA is how readily it can affect the event status of the movie - and therefore, the urge to go see it by members of the public who have a passing interest or neutrality toward it. If the rabid fan base accepts the movie and likes it, if it does for them what they remember the original trilogy doing for them (or the prequels; it could happen), and if it delivers critically on top of that (it appears to be doing so), then we might really have something. I will say that I may be missing the forest for the trees here, given that I feel like I've had Daisy Ridley and John Boyega and BB-8 staring me in the face for six months and I've seen the trailer more times than I can count. I may be too close to it; TFA may open to $275 million and close with $900 million domestic and transcend the cinema and become a new American cultural touchstone. If that happens, I shall declare myself guilty of compulsive over-analysis and exonerate myself from what I'm about to say next.
Until that possibly happens, here's my gut feeling. I am a casual fan of Star Wars, and the marketing (although technically pretty brilliant) has left me neutral. I'm not *not* looking forward to it...but were I not a MoviePass cardholder and intending to review it, I can almost certainly guarantee that it'd be behind Sisters, Creed, Joy, or Carol on my to-see list - and therefore, I wouldn't be part of the opening weekend gross. If it does break the opening weekend record, I'll be happy that the title-holder will almost certainly be less doofy and sketchy than Jurassic World. And I would be absolutely enthralled if the movie really over-delivered on a creative and storytelling level.
But that's also part of the issue: There's no tension here. We know exactly what we're getting, and we know that the movie coming out is going to be good on a fundamental technical level of filmmaking craftsmanship. That's part of the reason why a sect of the population is excited; as with the first Avengers film, the third LOTR film, and a couple of others, there's an amount of goodwill toward the project simply because we know that what we're going to see isn't going to be a gigantic cinematic faceplant. Disney's too canny for that. They're also too canny to do anything that might screw with their cash machine for the next several years. It'll be "good,” but I think it'll be safe and sanitized good. Which, to be fair, is what Star Wars has really always been anyway.
That's going to lead to the first $100 million of the opening weekend, and I think that's a given. Star Wars is something that we culturally identify with a bit more than the British environment of Tolkien's series, but reviews and fan sentiment count for a lot of what happens after that initial $100 million. Given the energy around the premiere, the excellent critical reviews, and the enthusiastic response from early viewers, I think the movie has a shot at capturing the opening-weekend record. What I think is more likely is that the movie is well-attended but not packed and the opening weekend comes in at somewhere between $170 and $190 million. Where it goes from there depends on how much of it is deserving of the anticipation. I keep vacillating between predicting $450 and $650 million for the domestic run, so I'm gonna split the difference and say $550 million domestic.