‘Star Wars’ Set to Match ‘Avatar’s’ Historic Box Office Feat

The second weekend grosses of “The Force Awakens” will almost surely be as big as the opening — which may be a record-breaker

Star Wars Avatar Split

The second weekend at the box office of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will almost surely be in the same range as its opening weekend, TheWrap has learned.

That reality has gone largely unnoticed, with the industry and movie fans focused on whether “The Force Awakens” will break the record for the biggest domestic box office debut when it rolls out on Dec. 18. It will take in $200 million in its first three days, analysts say, based on massive advance ticket sales and extraordinary social media buzz.

“That next weekend, and the whole next week with everyone being available, puts us in a very strong spot,” Disney’s distribution chief Dave Hollis told TheWrap.

The last big movie to pull off a comparable feat was “Avatar,” which went on to become the highest-grossing film in history with $2.78 billion worldwide. James Cameron‘s 2009 sci-fi epic also opened on a Friday, Dec. 18, and by Sunday it had taken in $77 million. In its second weekend, which kicked off on Christmas Day, it took in $75 million, a drop of less than two percent.

Kids are the big reason the second weekend of “The Force Awakens” is expected to be so strong.

“Only 18 percent of students will be out of school on opening day, Friday, Dec. 18. That number will climb to over 80 percent for December 21-25 and be at essentially 100 percent from December 28-January 1,” Hollis explained.

That prompts an obvious question: Could the second weekend top the first?

The answer is probably not, because the opening weekend numbers will include the grosses from the Thursday night early shows, which could top $40 million. Those early screenings, which are standard for wide openings, didn’t exist when “Avatar” was in theaters.

But even with a stratospheric Thursday debut, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” may not shatter the record for the biggest opening ever.

Disney sent a note to reporters Tuesday detailing why the sci-fi adventure epic probably would not break the  $208.4 million opening weekend record set by “Jurassic World” in June.

With the other pre-release indicators at unprecedented levels, it’s not surprising that Disney is taking its managing of expectations to the same heights. Studios typically look to keep expectations low to prevent a film from being perceived as a misfire if it doesn’t meet projections, but press notes with such specific detail — including bullet points — are unusual.

As early tracking numbers began trickling out Tuesday, Hollis detailed why breaking the opening weekend record will be tough for “The Force Awakens.”

“Some of the most successful films of all time (‘Avatar,’ ‘Titanic’, ‘Lord of the Rings’) opened in December, but none crossed $100 million during their opening weekend,” he said. Traveling and shopping could take a toll as well.

Nonetheless, Hollis said the studio was confident “The Force Awakens” would not only break but double the current $84.6 million record for a December debut set by “The Hobbit” in 2012. But he said the “multiple” — its final box-office take compared to its opening weekend — would be a major factor for this film in particular.

“December releases account for 20 of the strongest opening-weekend multiples in recent history,” he said. “For ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ our second week in theaters begins on Christmas Day and will provide seven consecutive days where a large amount of the population will be free to head to the movies.”

While there will be plenty of competition out there — 13 movies opening between Dec. 23 and Christmas Day– there are no other tentpole releases, he noted.

Hollis made a point of reassuring fans that the availability of tickets for the opening weekend of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” would not be an issue.

“There are millions of tickets available. When we saw ‘The Avengers’ break box office records in 2012, we were running at 63 percent capacity for the opening weekend.” he recalled.

J.J. Abrams directed, co-produced and co-wrote “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It stars Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Max von Sydow, as well as franchise alums Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. The story is set approximately 30 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi.” (1983).