How much money will The Force Awakens make?

The Force Awakens has generated a lot of intense excitement among the Star Wars fan faithfuls.  But there’s really not that many of us hard core fans.  Though Star Wars is a pop culture icon, it’s also just another big budget movie.  So one question that’s out there is “how much could this film make?”

This has piqued the MBA side of my brain.

There have been some optimistic projects  The Hollywood Reporter is throwing around numbers such as $2 Billion if it’s a really good film.  It also notes that the second Teaser Trailer for The Force Awakens far exceeded the interest garnered by Furious 7 which made $1.15 Billion in 19 days.

Forbes seems to have pessimistic writers on this subject projects (here, and here).  Their thoughts on the matter aren’t wrong, but they’re too pessimistic an attitude to take.  Star Wars is really something unprecedented.  It has followings across all nations and cultures.  It’s bigger than Beyonce.  The only thing bigger is soccer.  The Force Awakens is the cultural equivalent of the first world cup in 10 years.  This is going to be big.  But how big?

Bottom-up Analysis

It might be helpful to think through this analytically. There are 39,356 movie screens in the U.S.  The theatrical release window is approximately 4 months.  Let’s say each screen can host 4 shows / day.  Let’s also say the average theater contains 250 seats (there are certainly larger theaters, but there are many smaller so let’s hope this is a sufficient average).

If Star Wars was screened on all of the screens, all of the time, entirely sold out, for 3 days at an average ticket price of $10, that would produce revenues of…$1.18 Billion.  That’s really the upper limit for an opening weekend, then.  The Avengers, by contrast, did $208Million back in 2012 in its opening weekend.  Assuming 100% utilization for Star Wars for a weekend is certainly not a good assumption.  So then what market share of screens would be realistic?  Well, it may be helpful to look at what 10% market share would look like and then speculate how many 10% increments could be merited.

So 10% of $1.18B is $118 Million.  That would make The Force Awakens the best December opening weekend in history by far.  20% or $236 Million would top the high water mark set by The Avengers ($207MM) and Jurassic World ($208 Million)… but still not impossible (just improbable).  It would require too high of a screen count than could be fathomable.  But, if all of the multiplexes nation-wide could sell out half of all of their screens for every show for a weekend (selling out is likely, but not if there are that many screens) then you could start approaching more astronomical numbers.

Benchmarks

It’s helpful, perhaps, to look at some benchmark films as well.  Here are some more recent ones.

Film Year Opening   3days US Gross  $MM World Gross $MM
Jurrasic World 2015  $ 208  $ 649 $ 1,656
Avengers Age of Ultron 2015 $ 191  $ 485 $ 1,402
The Hobbit  2012  $ 84 $ 303 $ 1,021
The Avengers 2012  $ 207 $ 623 $ 1,519
Star Wars Episode I 1998  $ 64 $ 474 $ 1,027

It’s important to note that The Hobbit’s December opening was the largest ever for that month.  Also note the Episode I numbers are all in 1998 dollars (so that $64 Million in 1998 would be the equivalent of around $94 Million in 2015).

What jumps out to me most is how big these numbers are for films that weren’t all that good.  Jurrasic World got mixed reviews as did the Avengers 2.  But they blew the doors off the boxoffice – which they should for summertime block busters.  So the question for The Force Awakens will be if the December opening will take away from the movie going for this film.  Will the film be reasonably good to get the word of mouth engine going?

My Prediction…

So… I’d predict that The Force Awakens will be a more conventional best-ever opening blockbuster and do closer to $250 Million in the U.S.  Getting a summer opening weekend in December would be history making, but certainly feasible – we’ve seen numbers close to that recently.  There’s also rumors of theatres starting shows early and IMAX going all-Star Wars for a month.   Anything higher than this would be a behavior unseen by movie audiences.  It’s hard to bet on that, but I’d love to see it.

Gross over the course of its run, I think is where you’ll see something more significant.  I suspect this film to break $2 Billion through its theatrical run.  I don’t think it’ll be an unbelievable film (I’d love it to be); I’d declare victory if it’s as good as the Star Trek reboot (which isn’t without its flaws, but I love it).  But unlike that Star Trek film, I’m very probably going to see The Force Awakens more than once. That’s a lot for me – paying to see a film in a theatre is a rarity for me.  But I think it’ll happen.

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