Apparently, there’s nothing more powerful in the box-office universe than the Force.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh movie in the popular sci-fi franchise, put a Sith chokehold on cinema screens this weekend and broke every major opening record.
The film, which introduced Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac as new heroes in a galaxy far, far away, tallied $238 million for the weekend, according to studio estimates. It blows up the record of $208.8 million set in June by Jurassic World.
"We’re in territory that we’ve never seen in December," says Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "The enormity of this record-breaking weekend cannot be overstated. This is a true watershed event.
"I don’t have enough adjectives in my arsenal to describe how massive this is."
Even more impressive: The Force Awakens annihilated the opening-day and all-time Friday records with $120.5 million, helped by a monster $57 million in Thursday night previews. It breaks the $91.1 million mark set by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 in 2011, and the new Star Wars is the first movie to surpass $100 million in a single day.
It also set a new high for highest theater average with $57,500 in 4,134 theaters, and posted an extra $279 million internationally (except for China, where it will open in January) for a $517 million global debut.
The blockbuster was buoyed by universal raves: Critics heaped praise — a 95% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com — and audiences gave it an A at CinemaScore. Add to that acclaim Disney's "pitch-perfect" marketing, word of mouth through social media, great casting and repeat viewings, and everything came together for an "unprecedented" opening, Dergarabedian says. "If any of those had not been firing properly, you would not be seeing these numbers. The brand can get you really far, but the movie itself had to deliver."
A Rentrak audience survey shows that The Force Awakens audience was evenly split in age (with moviegoers older than 25 representing 54%, and 46% of the crowd under 25) and mostly male (66%). Dergarabedian expects that to shift female over time: "You’re going to have more women coming to see the movie as they hear about what a great and strong character Daisy Ridley" plays in Rey.
Among other newcomers this weekend, the animated Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip racked up $14.4 million, and the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Sisters made $13.4 million. The top five was rounded out by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 with $5.7 million and Creed with $5.1 million.
Next weekend looks fortuitous for Star Wars as well. "Christmas day is a big moviegoing day and it’s going to be incredibly crowded," Dergarabedian says. "It’ll get to $1 billion without even going into hyperdrive. And then beyond that, because it’s such a good movie, it can scale those heights and get into the $2 billion club."
He adds that 2015 having the two biggest weekends of all time is "incomprehensible. It just tells you that the moviegoing experience is alive and well."
Final figures are expected Monday.