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Saturday , December 14 2019

‘Force Awakens’ fastest to hit $1 bn – Box office has record year as few share the wealth

Actress Daisy Ridley (left), shares a light moment with actor John Boyega on stage as they attend the premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ in Shanghai, China on Dec 27. ‘The Force Awakens’ opens in the world’s second-biggest movie market on Jan 9 and producers say they anticipate it will play ‘very very well’ in China. (AP)
Actress Daisy Ridley (left), shares a light moment with actor John Boyega on stage as they attend the premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ in Shanghai, China on Dec 27. ‘The Force Awakens’ opens in the world’s second-biggest movie market on Jan 9 and producers say they anticipate it will play ‘very very well’ in China. (AP)

LOS ANGELES, Dec 28, (Agencies): The new “Star Wars” has become the fastest movie to pass the $1 billion mark in global box office sales, Disney said Sunday, as fans of the space epic pack theaters around the world.

Twelve days after it first hit screens, “The Force Awakens” has posted an estimated $545 million in ticket sales in North America and $546 million internationally, a statement said.

The previous record was held by “Jurassic World,” which took 13 days to reach the milestone.

The highly anticipated seventh installment of the blockbuster saga has received mostly glowing reviews, and is being credited with breathing new life into the juggernaut Hollywood franchise launched by creator George Lucas in 1977.

In North America, Disney said “The Force Awakens” is already the second biggest grossing movie of 2015 and the number five of all time, posting record Christmas Day box office sales of $49.3 million.


Over the three-day Christmas holiday weekend, it topped the North American box office, snapping up $153.5 million in estimated ticket sales, which analysts at the Rentrak research company said was the biggest second weekend of all time.

That bests “Jurassic World,” which garnered $106.6 million in its second weekend back in June, it said.

“The Force Awakens” picks up the intergalactic story of good versus evil 30 years on from “The Return of the Jedi,” the last episode of the original trilogy.

The trio of heroes who appeared in the first of the blockbusters — smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), leader of the rebel alliance, and her twin brother Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) — are all back and played by the actors that “Star Wars” first made famous.

International results exclude China, where the film premiered on Sunday but will only open to the public on Jan 9, according to Disney.

“’Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ posted an estimated $133.3 million in its second weekend of overseas release from all territories worldwide except China representing approximately 75 percent of the international marketplace,” it said.

Jeff Bock, of industry tracker Exhibitor Relations, said “The Force Awakens” is likely to dethrone James Cameron’s “Avatar” as the top-grossing film of all time in North America.


But whether it will surpass that movie’s $2.8 billion global box office sales record will depend on China, he added.

“Two billion is very doable, but $2.8 billion is a different beast entirely,” Bock told AFP by email. “As the number two film market in the world, that record will most certainly depend on how ‘The Force Awakens’ performs there.”

Disney highlighted the performance of “The Force Awakens” in a number of other overseas markets, including the United Kingdom, where it said estimated cumulative ticket sales have so far reached $97.2 million in 10 days.

Australia was the stand-out in the Asia-Pacific region, it said, with the film earning an estimated $35.7 million to date, making it the number two Disney release of all time in the country, just behind “The Avengers.”

The skyrocketing success of the latest “Star Wars” has stoked US film industry hopes that struggling theaters can thrive in the face of a growing shift to online video streaming.

Box office revenues were down five percent to $10.4 billion last year while increasing barely one percent globally, according to statistics from the Motion Picture Association of America.

But analysts say powerhouse attractions such as “The Force Awakens” — coupled with upgraded theater features such as immersive sound, improved sight lines, and even dinner and drinks — can help win back straying movie buffs.

At the multiplexes this year, it was a clear case of the haves and have nots.

Thanks to monster hits such as “Furious 7,” “Jurassic World,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — all four of which will end up among the top seven highest-grossing films — ticket sales soared to record levels. For the first time in history, the domestic box office will hit $11 billion, but that hefty number was achieved on the back of a small collection of pictures.

Through Christmas weekend, the top ten films in 2015 accounted for nearly 35% of overall ticket sales. Last year that number was less than 25%.

“A significant portion of the overall gross was coming from far fewer films,” notes Chris Aronson, Fox’s domestic distribution chief. “Yes, it was an up year, but that was driven by fewer films than normal.”

And while there was a great preponderance of global-spanning blockbusters than ever before, with five movies likely to exceed $1 billion in revenue for the first time, the wealth was more concentrated. Here’s a sign of how the riches weren’t divided as equitably. In 2013 and 2014, thirteen films made more than $200 million domestically, while in 2012, eleven pictures exceeded that threshold. This year, only nine films have eclipsed that figure.

For studios that do manage to tap into the zeitgeist, the rewards are plentiful. That latest “Star Wars” has a good chance of blowing past “Avatar” to become the highest-grossing film. The mammoth hauls for “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7” demonstrate that even after a decade, these franchises are only increasing in popularity. And films like “The Martian” and “Inside Out” rode a wave of critical raves to commercial riches both here and abroad. They manage to enjoy what in television is referred to as “water-cooler status” — a cultural primacy that has people rushing out to multiplexes to see them so they won’t be left out of the conversation.

 “The heavy lifting is being done by fewer films, but the ones that work, man do they work,” said Greg Foster, CEO of Imax Entertainment.

It’s not just that a few films were responsible for a greater percentage of the gross that’s signaling the movie business, like the American economy at large, is entering a period of income inequality. Only two studios, Universal and Disney, were responsible for the top six grossing films — the first time that has happened since at least 1980.

The one-percenters’ slice of the overall pie was far greater too. Universal, which fielded “Jurassic World,” “Furious 7,” and “Minions,” commanded 22% of the market share and earned a massive $6.8 billion globally. In the past fifteen years, no studio has gobbled up more 20% of the market and exceeded $6 billion in receipts.

For its part, Disney, armed with popular brands such as Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, exceed $5 billion globally for the first time, and currently is seen as a studio superpower without equal.

“The rich got richer and the poor got poorer,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “This isn’t just something we’re going to see more of in the future. This is the future. Disney is now a super studio. The other studios can’t touch them right now.”

The discrepancy in wealth accumulation is squeezing out mid-range hits, Bock and others argue. There is still a week left in 2015, but it appears as thought the number of films that gross $100 million or more will likely be at its lowest levels in five years. A sign that studios are hitting for power rather than average, mashing more home runs and scoring fewer doubles and triples.

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