Casting of original stars and newcomers wisely keeps the focus on the blockbuster brand
“Star Wars: Episode VII” has a good shot at joining “Avatar” and “Titanic” in hitting $2 billion at the worldwide box office, industry analysts said Tuesday.
“The casting for this new film is perfect from a commercial standpoint,” BoxOffice.com Vice President and Senior Analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap.
Disney, Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams on Tuesday said that the stars of the original film — Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher — will be joined by newcomers Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow.
“Bringing back the original cast is brilliant, because it cements the link with the franchise's incredible legacy, and so is going without A-list actors in the new roles, because it keeps the focus on the brand,” Contrino said.
Even if hardcore fans of the franchise aren't totally happy with the casting picks, the excitement surrounding them could help build momentum — which is already at fever pitch.
“It's a time-honored tradition for fans of that series to complain about George Lucas and any number of other things surrounding the franchise — and then they go to see the movies five times,” Contrino said.
James Cameron's “Titanic” and “Avatar” are the highest-grossing movies ever at the worldwide box office. The romantic sea disaster epic brought in $2.1 billion in 1997, a record that stood until the futuristic 3D sci-fi saga rolled up a staggering $2.7 billion in 2009.
Disney, which was radio silent on Tuesday, will want to manage expectations for “Episode VII.” And it's worth noting that forecasting box-office returns on a movie more than a year-and-a-half-ahead of its release involves more speculation than data analysis.
Wall Street analysts at this point aren't as bullish; last summer, Credit Suisse's Michael Senn predicted $1.2 billion in box office for “Episode VII. This week, Cowan & Co. projected $1.2 billion and FBR Capital Markets said it would take in $700 million domestically — and net $1 billion overseas.
Nonetheless, industry analysts are convinced that the sequel will be one for the record books.
Keeping the focus on the brand is just what Disney needs to do if they want “Star Wars: Episode VII” to hit record heights, agreed Rentrak Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
“We're talking about what, for many people, is the biggest movie brand in their lifetimes, one that evokes all sorts of memories, imagery — and box-office expectations,” he said.
Since “A New Hope” opened in 1977, the six previous “Star Wars” movies and their re-releases have brought in more than $4.5 billion — but no film in the series has hit the $1 billion mark. That's not surprising; “Titanic” is the only movie released before 2009 on the Top 10 list. The highest-grossing entry in the “Star Wars” series remains “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” which took in $983 million globally in 1999.
“It clearly has a built-in audience, but how the movie is received will make a difference,” Contrino said. “If it's really good, some people are going to go see it several times. If it's not, that won't happen.”
The box office is a high-profile piece of the franchise's overall value, but it's far from being the only factor. With returns from DVDs, books and toy sales factored in, the series has generated more than $27 billion in revenue, according to the research institute Statistic Brain.
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Even by “Star Wars” standards, the anticipation around “Episode VII” is unprecedented, Dergarabedian said.
“A few years ago, people thought they'd never see a new ‘Star Wars’ movie, much less a full-fledged franchise,” he said. Disney chairman Robert Iger has said the studio is planning on several more “Stars Wars” movies in the coming years.
The North American release date for “Episode VII” — Dec. 18, 2015 — is the same date that “Avatar” opened on five years ago.
“That's significant, and ideal,” Contrino said. “It will surely have a huge opening, but it will also have the whole month of January to keep on playing. I can't imagine a lot of other studios are going to get in its way.”
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That's a formula “Avatar” followed to its record haul, establishing new standards for the highest-grossing third-through-seventh weekends domestically. And after just 41 days in release, “Avatar” had established new records in 24 foreign markets.
“With the incredible growth of the foreign markets, I think the sky is the limit this time around,” said Contrino.
“Phantom Menace” is the biggest earning film of franchise overseas with $552 million, which represented roughly 56 percent of its worldwide haul. Largely due to the explosive growth of the foreign markets, today's biggest blockbusters typically bring in roughly 70 percent of their grosses from overseas.