As ‘Star Wars’ Soars, Rivals Rise Too

Since “The Force Awakens” debuted on Dec. 18, business has improved 33 percent over the same period last year

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has boosted the overall box office along with its record-breaking ride, after skyrocketing to the No. 1 spot on the list of top-grossing movies domestically and winning the last four weekends.

Since the Disney blockbuster opened on Dec. 18, the North American box office is up 37 percent over the comparable period last year, according to Rentrak. The four weekends have risen on average 60 percent over the comparable frames last year while the space epic has surged to $813 million in grosses.

Most industry observers indicated prior to its opening that “The Force Awakens” would boost the box office, believing that the axiom “a rising tide lifts all boats” applied.  How much the J.J. Abrams-directed sequel contributed to the success of other movies is open to debate, but that the success of the Disney blockbuster has been a boon for the box office is undeniable.

“This business thrives on momentum, and the success of ‘Star Wars’ has provided that,” said Dave Hollis, who has overseen the film’s global rollout as Disney’s EVP, Theatrical Exhibition Sales & Distribution.

“It’s gotten a lot of people who hadn’t been to the movies in a long time back into theaters, and exposes them to how great the experience can be,” Hollis told TheWrap. The media coverage surrounding the record-breaking run of “The Force Awakens” has raised consumer awareness, as has the social media buzz — the modern equivalent of what was once called “the water cooler” effect.

‘Star Wars’ Blasts Off and Box Office Feels the Force

Dec. 19 2014 weekend: $135.0 billion
Dec. 18, 2015 weekend: $313.1 billion
Increase: 131.9 percent

Dec. 26, 2014 weekend: $209.3 billion
Dec. 25, 2015 weekend: $296.4 billion
Increase: 41.6 percent

Jan. 2, 2015 weekend: $155.0 billion
Jan. 1, 2016 weekend: $219.5 billion
Increase: 41.6 percent

Jan. 9, 2015 weekend: $126.9 billion
Jan. 8, 2016 weekend: $158.9 billion
Increase: 25.7 percent

(Source: Rentrak)

Once they’re at the multiplexes, moviegoers have been exposed to marketing materials and trailers for upcoming releases, so the ripple effect may last for months. Those include previews for upcoming Disney releases as well as the studio’s rivals, and range from likely blockbusters such as Fox’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” to those that could use the exposure, like Focus Features’ animated “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

“Daddy’s Home,” the Mark WahlbergWill Ferrell comedy from Paramount, over-achieved in its Christmas weekend opening with $38.7 million — while “Stars Wars” was hitting $149 million in its second week — and has rolled to $116 million since.

Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip” and Universal’s Amy PoehlerTina Fey comedy “Sisters” opened on the same day as “Star Wars” and both have done well as counter-programming, with the kids film and the R-rated comedy both up to $75 million domestically.

“The Revenant” opened in limited release on Christmas Day and did well for two weeks, then exploded in its nationwide expansion over the weekend for Fox. The R-rated Leonardo DiCaprio frontier saga took in $39.6 million, just behind the $42.3 million of “The Force Awakens.”

“This weekend is the industry at its best,” Fox Distribution President Chris Aronson told TheWrap on Sunday. He’d gone on the record early saying that ‘Star Wars’ would help, not hurt, the overall business.

“Success begats success, and the market always expands,” he said.

Not every film has flourished. Warner Bros.’ Christmas Day release “Point Break” hasn’t found its footing. And the Weinstein Company’s Quentin Tarantino western “The Hateful Eight,” Sony’s Will Smith NFL drama “Concussion” and the Jennifer Lawrence comedy-drama “Joy” haven’t hit the heights their backers would have liked.

With the exception of “Hateful Eight,” none of those films was particularly well-reviewed, and they may have had the same problems connecting with wide audiences with or without “Star Wars.”

“If you look at the first two weekends of the year the percentage increase is massive, so on the whole this has been good for everyone, and we feel good about that,” Hollis said.