Weekend Forecast for December 18-20, 2015

By Reagen Sulewski

December 17, 2015

I told you not to taunt the Empire!

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The best comparison for the release of this movie is the final Harry Potter, which was aiming at going out with a bang, rather than reviving a franchise, but it's similar behavior. That's still the current one-day record holder, with $91 million, even four years later. However, that's not the all-time weekend record holder as you may have noticed, as fans rushed to get in their one-last experience in the Harry Potter world (or so they thought, but never mind that). A tremendous fall-off occurred on the Saturday to less than half of the Thursday-Friday combined number – though it's unfair to judge it in that fashion. Essentially, Warner Bros got people to show up early and push their viewing to the start in a fan event. That's more or less what we're going to get here, and it's what we got with The Phantom Menace, which saw more than a 50 percent drop its second day and was down about a third from its opening day on the first Friday. Which is why the one-day record could fall without it getting all that close to the weekend record.

Some data has started to roll out, with pre-sales records falling, and comparisons to Jurassic World (+20%) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (+100%) being released – but right away the non-linearity of that data should be jumping out at people. I mean, you expected the pre-sales of Star Wars to beat Jurassic World, didn't you? I sure hope you did, since the dinosaur epic didn't really capture people's attention in earnest until about two weeks before release. The Star Wars hype-train's been chugging along the track for a couple of months and that it's only winning by that much is, well, it's not guaranteeing a win.


With that sort of history in mind, here's what will likely need to happen for a record. An opening day of at least $100 million (with $30 to 40 million in overnights) needs to happen, followed by a decent hold to $57 million, then a mere 10 percent drop to $52 million, which gets it juuuust over the Jurassic World mark. While we've seen estimates as high as $300 million in click-baity articles, industry professionals and rival studios have dared to go as high as $220 million – though bear in mind that there's more than a little mind game going on there, as they put up numbers they think it won't hit in order to make Disney defend a lower number.

Tracking at this level – and really, anything over $125 million – becomes a bit of a dart throwing exercise. When you're trying to fill every theater to capacity, you get into logistics, and these massive days become more and more difficult to match. If any of those three days falters (I expect the Saturday to be the biggest issue), then the record will stand. What its final box office total will be after the opening weekend is still an open question, as we've never had quite such a large film open over this time. Will it follow normal December rules, or will it simply exhaust its audience (don't give me the repeat audience argument – that same one was made in 1999 as well) in one big swoop? Time will tell. But other franchise or franchise-like films in this position have ranged from 3.5 times the opening weekend for the objectively terrible second Hobbit film, all the way up to almost 10 times for Avatar, with the 4.5 times of Return of the King being a more realistic target. It's a favorable, albeit not optimal calendar configuration, with Christmas Day falling on a Friday, and the lead film the last time we had this one was... Avatar. So, fireworks are certainly possible.

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