First came the set-up; now it’s the payoff. After a tidal wave of hype, promotion and anticipation, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally gone on general release.
It debuted in the UK, most of Europe and parts of Asia and South America on Wednesday and Thursday, while Friday sees the first public screenings in the US. And all the indications are that even the most optimistic predictions of its box office performance will turn out to be justified.
In the UK, where cinemas began showing the film at 00:01 on Thursday morning, The Force Awakens took £9.6m in its first 24 hours, well ahead of the recent James Bond film Spectre, which managed £6.3m on its opening day in October. It would appear to be on course to beat Spectre’s opening weekend record of £41.3m, even though Spectre was released on a Monday, giving it three more full days to achieve the figure. And there seems little doubt it will eclipse the three year-old total of £102.9m of the previous Bond film, Skyfall, which is the current British box office all time champion.
In the US, which will undoubtedly form The Force Awakens’ most lucrative territory, the rollout is only just getting underway, but its commercial strength is underlined by the fact it has broken online agency Fandango’s record for advance ticket sales. Fandango have not released any figures, but analysts estimate the film has taken over $100m in total presales in the US. The raft of previews scheduled for Thursday, the day before the official release, brought in some $57m, beating the previous Thursday best held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, and therefore looks likely to pass the domestic opening weekend record of $208.8m set by Jurassic World in June.
The benchmark, however, is the all-time box office record, currently the $2.8bn piled up by Avatar on its release almost exactly six years ago in 2009. Avatar set a US domestic record of $760.5m, and augmented it with some $2bn internationally; Star Wars, however, will be able to call on a considerably more powerful Chinese box office, which is could supply double the $204m Avatar earned there.
China’s rigidly controlled system of releasing non-domestic films has resulted The Force Awakens is opening there on 9 January, meaning the film cannot call on what is expected to be a mammoth total to help it try to get past Jurassic World’s mighty worldwide opening weekend total of $511.8m. However, the film’s producer\s have gone to great lengths to maximise its chances there, where familiarity with the long-running franchise is significantly less than elsewhere. None of the original trilogy, released in the 1970s and 80s, were shown in Chinese cinemas, but in recent months all six films have been made available for online streaming there. And in what must count as a major publicity coup, some 500 stormtroopers took up position on the Great Wall in October.
As fans continued to flock to cinemas – many in costume – the vexed question of spoilers continued to raise its head. Speaking in London on Thursday after the film’s European premiere, the film’s director JJ Abrams conceded it was “no surprise” that some internet users would give away plot details, even as popular website Reddit started to block any of its users it considered were indulging in “spoiler jihad”. Philadelphia police have even suggested that spoiler should be made illegal. However, actor Harrison Ford thanked the press for agreeing to “respect their readership and not spill the beans”.
As ever, though, Carrie Fisher stole the show at the film’s London press conference with her unconventional take on the movie-making process. Whe asked what advice she gave to the younger members of the cast, who were new to the Star Wars franchise, she replied: “Don’t go through the crew like wildfire.”
Additional reporting by Ben Child
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