‘Star Wars’ Hyperdrives Past Box Office Record With $238 Million Debut

“The Force Awakens” soars higher than “Jurassic World” for biggest domestic opening ever

Last Updated: December 20, 2015 @ 11:58 AM

“Star War: The Force Awakens” launched with an out-of-this world $238 million dollars this weekend, the biggest domestic box office debut in Hollywood history.

Disney and director J.J. Abrams reignited The Force after a 10-year absence and delighted three generations of fans who turned out and rocketed “The Force Awakens” beyond unprecedented hype, massive expectations and the opening weekend record of $208.8 million that Universal’s “Jurassic World” stomped to in June.

Record trailer views, social media buzz and record advance ticket sales of more than $100 million signaled the potential of “The Force Awakens,” but opening in December when holiday shopping and traveling are at peak levels meant there were no guarantees. The size of the domestic debut, roughly $20 million more than most projections, was stunning and its impact wide-ranging.

“We’re tremendously excited about the future, not only for ‘The Force Awakens,’ but for the films that will be coming up in the franchise,” Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief, told TheWrap Sunday. “J.J. Abrams did a magnificent job of storytelling and delivered for the fans in the face of expectations that we just haven’t seen before.”

The $120.5 million opening day for “The Force Awakens” marked the largest Friday, opening day and single day, records previously held by 2011’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” at $91 million. It set a new previews mark with $57 million Thursday, and its first day alone broke the December opening weekend mark held by 2012’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Of the 4,135 theaters screening “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” 391 were IMAX and they delivered a record $30.1 million of the grosses, topping the $20.9 million boost that “Jurassic World” received. In the process they generated an eye-popping per-screen average of $77,000. The 3,300 3D screens, mainly using RealD technology, delivered 47 percent of the domestic total. Twenty-eight percent came from traditional 3D, 12 percent from IMAX 3D and seven percent from Premium Large Format 3D.

But it wasn’t all about records.

The stunning triumph by “The Force Awakens” re-energizes the classic sci-fi film franchise launched in 1977 by George Lucas, who sold the “Star Wars” rights along with Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012. It is kicking off a trilogy of new “Star Wars” films and spawning two spinoffs, one featuring Han Solo and another on bounty hunter Boba Fett.

The rollout of “The Force Awakens” is also a testimony to the long-range vision of Disney CEO and Chairman Robert Iger, who in the midst of a recession guided his company’s pricey acquisitions of Pixar Animation, Marvel Studios and finally Lucasfilm, which owned the rights to the “Star Wars” franchise.

Blockbusters have a mixed track record at the Academy Awards, but this massive debut assures that Oscar voters will at least consider “The Force Awakens,” which is a hit with critics and already in the Best Picture discussion.

The “A” CinemaScore awarded “The Force Awakens” by first-night audiences seemed all but a given, as millions of fans across the U.S. and Canada jammed multiplexes and lit up Twitter and Facebook with instant reviews as glowing as that of the critics. It’s at 95 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes.

Nostalgic fans of the original films were pretty much a lock to like the film, and they did. “The Force Awakens” also drew an “A+” grade from women — a group Disney marketers specifically targeted — and from audience members under 18 and under 25 years of age.

“The Force Awakens” crowd broke down 58 percent male and 42 percent female. As might be expected for a film franchise with a four-decade history, the audience was very broad in terms of age: 8 percent were 12 and under, 13 to 16-year-olds made up nine percent, 17-25-year-olds accounted for 20 percent, 26-34-year-olds were 26 percent, 35-49-year-olds made up 24 percent and 13 percent were over the age of 50.

“The Force Awakens” stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in the key roles as Rey and Finn along with original “Star Wars” stars Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher as Leia. “The Force Awakens” is set 30 years after the events of 1983’s “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.”

The production budget on the PG-13-rated “The Force Awakens,” from Abrams’ Bad Robot and Lucasfilm, was $200 million. Bryan Burk and Kathleen Kennedy produced along with Abrams, who shared screenwriting duties with Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan. John Williams composed the score.

The weekend’s other wide openers did OK, even though “The Force Awakens” outstripped them by more than $200 million for the weekend. Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” took second with $14.4 million and received an “A-” CinemaScore. Universal’s Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy “Sisters” was third with $13.9 million and was awarded a “B.”