Why 2015 Box Office Record May Come Down to ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

If “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” can’t top “Catching Fire” and “Good Dinosaur” fails to match “Frozen,” bid to make history will hinge on “The Force Awakens”

The 2015 domestic box office remains on pace to be the highest-grossing ever, but barely. It’s not a sure thing and it now appears the first two weeks of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will determine whether Hollywood makes history this year.

“You build a record box-office year brick-by-brick, right up to the end,” Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak’s senior media analyst, told TheWrap Thursday. “It’s neck-and-neck right now and I think it’s going to come down to the wire. ‘Star Wars’ could make the difference, but every release from here on out will have an impact.”

Through Wednesday, the 2015 box office was at $9.16 billion, just 0.18 percent ahead of the $9.14 billion that 2013 had reached at the same point, according to Rentrak. The standard was set two years ago at $10.9 billion, paced by “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Iron Man 3” and “Frozen,” all of which topped $400 million.

This year, “Jurassic World” was a monster with $652 million in grosses domestically and “Avengers: The Age of Ultron” hit $459 million, each higher than any of the 2013 films. And “Furious 7,” “Minions,” “Inside Out” and “American Sniper” have all topped $300 million.

Setting Stage for Down-to-the-Wire Record Run
record chart

This year was ahead of 2013 by nearly 6 percent after Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania 2” paced a record September, but lost most of that edge in October, the worst at the box office in 15 years. Then last weekend, “Spectre” debuted to a good but-not-great — at least for a Bond movie — $70 million, well under the $87 million opening of 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World” on that same weekend.

It’s likely only four movies will top the box office for the rest of this year. “Spectre” is currently No. 1 and should stay there this weekend. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” debuts on Nov. 20 and will take that weekend and should battle for the top spot with Disney/Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” (Nov. 26) until Dec. 18. That’s when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” begins a two-week run that will have likely determine whether the record falls.

Jennifer Lawrence‘s “Mockingjay – Part 2” are tracking for a $125 million opening just before Thanksgiving. The finale to Lionsgate’s young adult franchise could go higher, but it’s unlikely to match the $152 million debut of 2013’s “Catching Fire.”

The same is true for Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur,” which is looking strong on social media but at this point seems a long shot to top the $67 million debut of Disney sibling “Frozen,” given the competition.

That leaves Disney’s “Star Wars” as the year’s final blockbuster release. Massive advance sales and over-the-top anticipation suggest it will easily top the $73 million debut of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” but whether it can compensate for “Mockingjay 2” and “Good Dinosaur” not matching their 2013 counterparts is the question.

The tight battle between blockbusters means the performance of some of the movies that didn’t run from “Stars Wars” — Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and Universal’s R-rated Tina Fey-Amy Pohler comedy “Sisters”open against it on Dec. 18 — will definitely have an impact.

Warner Bros. and MGM’s “Rocky” spinoff “Creed” (Nov. 20) and Christmas releases including the Will FerrellMark Wahlberg comedy “Daddy’s Home” from Paramount seem to have breakout potential, too.

Ultimately, every ticket sold to every movie shown matters in the big picture, and who knows what film could put 2015 at an unprecedented $11 billion in domestic grosses.