After all the anticipation for the newest “Star Wars” film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” its massive box office numbers in its debut weekend are most likely not a surprise.
“Force” grossed about $247 million domestically after opening on Dec. 18. It set a worldwide record, grossing about $528 million.
By comparison, a recent movie that experienced huge success, this summer’s “Jurassic World,” grossed more than $208 million domestically and $524 million worldwide when it opened.
The movie was the newest “Star Wars” movie in 10 years and the first in more than 30 to feature original series actors Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill.
Industry watchers are now wondering whether the newest “Star Wars” movie can beat the box office numbers held by director James Cameron’s films “Avatar,” which came out in 2009, and “Titanic,” which was released in 1997. The two are the highest- and second-highest-grossing movies of all time domestically, respectively (and not adjusted for inflation).
What makes these movies succeed? In order to attain these kinds of numbers, a movie must appeal to multiple demographics and perhaps even attract repeat visitors (“Titanic” in particular is famous for people having gone to see it more than once).
Will “Star Wars” have moviegoers coming back? Positive reviews and reactions from fans may mean that those enjoyed the story will return. After bad buzz for the movie, it’s doubtful that many moviegoers returned to see, for example, the 1999 “Star Wars” movie “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.”
In addition, it seems that “Force” has attracted demographically diverse audience members already. The audience for the movie this past weekend was 66 percent male and 47 percent were under the age of 25, according to movie data tracking company Rentrak. That last number shows that the movie didn’t attract only viewers who can remember when the last movie with Ford, Fisher, and Hamill, 1983’s “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi,” was in theaters.
If “Star Wars” can beat both “Titanic” and “Avatar” to become the highest-grossing movie of all time, it will have been a movie that became a success after capitalizing on previous popularity for a series – a move similar to the success for "Jurassic World," which is now the third-highest-grossing film of all time domestically. By contrast, “Titanic” and “Avatar” were both movies that succeeded more with the power of word-of-mouth. “Titanic” is, of course, based on historical events, but its characters are original and “Avatar” is an original story. In both cases, the movies’ groundbreaking special effects no doubt attracted interest.
By contrast, “Star Wars” represents the culmination of almost 40 years of a successful movie series. The “Star Wars” fanbase seems to have only grown over the years. After a prequel film trilogy that was poorly received by most fans, there was enormous appetite for a “Star Wars” movie that was done well.