An Irresistible Force Awakens the Box Office
By John Hamann
December 20, 2015
We knew it was going to be big, but not this big.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally opened this weekend, and the result is out-of-this-world. The record breaking smash is bigger than expected, and will usher in a new era at the box office. The three-day box office score came in at scintillating $238 million. Only the top 106 films in all of box office history have earned more than that in their entire domestic run.
This is a big day in box office history, like the day the 1989 version of Batman opened to $40.5 million, or the day when the 2002 version of Spider-Man debuted to $114.8 million. This weekend, The Force Awakens had a Thursday preview amount that was more than Batman's weekend gross, and a first day that was bigger than Spider-Man's weekend take. The Force awakened the box office record book this weekend, and set itself up to become one of the biggest films ever released.
As everyone on the planet knows, Star Wars: The Force Awakens got started on Thursday night for real, as those who had been sweatily gripping their advanced tickets gained access - and the word-of-mouth onslaught began. Thursday night sales, which started at 7 p.m, amounted to a ludicrous $57 million, giving The Force Awakens its first record of the weekend. It absolutely trounced the $43.5 million that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 earned from its preview. Thursday's $57 million put it 134th on the biggest opening weekends of all-time list, beating the three-day score of big films like Despicable Me, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, X-Men: First Class and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Force Awakens had not played for a full day and was already huge.
The combined Thursday/Friday number was sure to be the biggest ever, as the $57 million push was guaranteed to get it past the record $91.1 million that The Deathly Hallows Part 2 earned on opening day in 2011. The opening day for The Force Awakens came in at an astounding $120.5 million, as it smashed the record by almost $30 million. Had that number been its weekend gross, it would have put it in the top 20 openings of all time, squeezing between Shrek the Third ($121.5 million) and Man of Steel ($116.6 million). At this point, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was about $40 million ahead of Jurassic World and The Avengers, which had opening days of $82 million and $80.8 million respectively - but an interesting piece of data came with that record-breaking Friday number.
That interesting data comes from The Force Awakens "true Friday" - the Friday number without the preview amounts included. That number - the $120.5 million opening day, less the $57 million from Thursday - was $63.5 million, almost exactly what Jurassic World earned on its "true Friday." This theoretically should have made Star Wars a little more mortal than some of the earlier figures represented. Before hurling your BB-8 toy out the window, I want to remind everyone that this is December, not May, June or July, and that a lot of kids were in school on Friday instead of on summer vacation. Let's pause and remember that the biggest ever weekend in December came from The Hobbit: An Expected Journey, which had an $84 million weekend in 2012. Due to holiday obligations, films are not built to be record breakers in December. Yet, The Force Awakens smashed all records anyway, handing it to the summer films and breaking out of the December behavior that we have been carefully tracking at the box office for a decade and a half.