How much money will Rogue One make?

There’s a lot of debate about how much money Rogue One will make.  Here’s my analysis.  

For The Force Awakens, I guessed pretty well:

Opening weekend: “closer to $250 Million”

Total Boxoffice gobal: “break $2 Billion”

I claim victory on both accounts.  TFA made $248 Million it’s opening weekend and it made $2.068 Billion worldwide.

But how many tickets will Rogue One sell?  The Force Awakens is really a rare occurrence (The Phantom Menace and maybe The Empire Strikes Back) are the only other Star Wars films with such intense fan interest.  Rogue One is really a different animal.  It’s a prequel (mostly – none of the main characters are characters we know).  It doesn’t involve the Skywalkers (directly anyways) and is primarily a war film.

But it’s also still Star Wars.  The name alone merits interest.

So… how much will it make?  It’s hard to do a decent analysis on this.  It was pretty obvious that TFA was going to break box office records given the fan interest.  Rogue One lacks that level of fan engagement.  Disney isn’t even promoting it on its premium networks (i.e. on ESPN during Monday night football for TFA; Good Morning America for Rogue One).

Rogue One has a lot going for it though.  It’s unique.  It looks visually stunning.  It has a lot of action – really the first film that merits having “War” in its title.  It has a compelling storyline involving the stealing of the Death Star plans that end up in the hands of the Rebels in Episode IV.  So Rogue One has the potential to shine in a way that most people don’t expect, in the same vein as Avatar’s success.  It very well could be the best Star Wars film ever made (even Empire, if you excuse the importance that Empire has to the overall Star Wars Saga; Empire pretty well defines all of Star Wars – that’s hard to beat).

Vader in Rogue One - Copyright Lucasfilm

Oh, one more thing.  Darth Vader is in this film and he looks awesome.  That matters. Remember, Vader was only on screen for 11 minutes in A New Hope.  So it doesn’t take much Vader to take this film over the top.

What everyone else says

Disney execs have tried to tamp down the excitement on Rogue One from that of The Force Awakens (so… less than $2 Billion).

A quick perusal of Reddit  indicates fans think around $1 Billion.  That’s a reasonable (and awesome) expectation.  But it’s also a bit fatalistic in that it means that it would make only as much as The Phantom Menace (less so on an inflation adjusted basis).

Forbes says $150 Million (opening) and $750M to $1B (gross, worldwide) confidently.  That’s reasonable and the article doesn’t present controversial arguments either.

High water mark

If it’s an unexpected hit, then Avatar’s $2.7 Billion is the high water mark.  However, Avatar’s revenues is really a reflection on the interest in the relatively new 3D technology.  That had broad appeal internationally and prices for 3D were high.

Will it beat The Force Awakens ($2 Billion)?  That’s hard to say.  At the moment, I think the answer is no for logistical reasons.  There currently aren’t any pre-sales for tickets as there was for TFA.  There doesn’t seem to be round-the-clock shows.  It’s not clear how many theatres the film will be in, though it’s safe to say it will be a lot.

It’s also still December.  December tends not be a good time for films.  But it has always been a time for bad films so I don’t think that’s generalizable for Star Wars.  It’s important to note that TFA pretty well fizzled out after December.  Even if Rogue One doesn’t have the fan-fare up-front it could have a longer tail.  So it could do well from that perspective too.

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

Benchmarks

Let’s look back at our (non-TFA) blockbusters)

Film Year Opening   3days US Gross  $MM World Gross $MM
Batman v Superman 2016  $ 166  $ 330 $ 873
Suicide Squad 2016  $ 133  $ 325 $ 745
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

Will Rogue One be better than Episode I? Sure. Will it be better than Age of Ultron?  I think so (I couldn’t make it past 45 minutes with AoU).  In fact, thematically, Rogue One looks better than all of these films.

So…

My Prediction

Rogue One looks like a great film.  If it lacks too many plot holes (a Star Wars staple) has compelling characters.  So my guess:  $215 Million (+/- $5 Million).  I don’t know if there’s going to be enough theaters to get higher than this.  But I do think it can do better than Age of Ultron, even in December.   As for it’s total theatrical release, I say it’ll break $2 Billion worldwide.  The reason I think it’ll do as well as The Force Awakens (or better) is because this film, unlike TFA, doesn’t require a knowledge of the previous six Star Wars films.  It has a much more accessible story and can stand on its own.  It can, then, do better in many international markets like China, Brazil and India.

These are more controversial guesses.  But $2 Billion total and $215MM opening is reachable even if it under performs a bit in the larger markets.  The $100-150 marks seem far too conservative when you compare against Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad (critically underwhelming films).  It all depends on how good the film is and if audiences really take to it.  What I really want, even at the risk of being wrong, is that this could blow TFA out of the water in all fronts.  I would love to see this film beat Avatar’s $2.7 Billion.  But that may just be a bridge too far.


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