‘Star Wars’, the epic no one believed in – Tickets getting scalped for big bucks

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This photo provided by Disney shows Daisey Ridley as Rey (left), and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the new film, ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,’ directed by J.J. Abrams. The movie, which received a PG-13 rating, releases in the US on Dec 18. (AP)
This photo provided by Disney shows Daisey Ridley as Rey (left), and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the new film, ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,’ directed by J.J. Abrams. The movie, which received a PG-13 rating, releases in the US on Dec 18. (AP)

LOS ANGELES, Dec 4, (Agencies): It may well be one of Hollywood’s biggest success stories, but when the original “Star Wars” film was released in 1977 many people, including creator George Lucas, believed it would be a flop.

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted what a smash hit and what a cultural phenomenon it was going to become,” said Jonathan Kuntz, professor at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television.

“As soon as anybody saw ‘Star Wars’, they were converted and they fell in love with it.”

But the early beginnings of the space epic didn’t look that rosy.

Twentieth Century Fox, the film’s distributor, hesitated over the film’s $8 million budget and wasn’t convinced a science fiction movie would fill theaters.

Such was the lack of enthusiasm that the studio planned a limited release and had to twist the arm of some theaters to agree to show the movie.

Given the budget constraints, Lucas agreed to a lower salary in exchange for full merchandising rights to the movie and any sequels — a deal that would prove brilliant and make him very, very rich.

Prior to the film’s release, Lucas organized a private showing to a group of film director friends and most, including Brian De Palma, gave it a thumbs down.

“It was a disaster,” recalls Gary Kurtz, who produced the first two ‘Star Wars’ films.

“Everyone was like ‘Oh, I don’t know, it may not work’.”

The only voice of dissent came from Steven Spielberg, who rightly predicted the movie would be a hit.

Still, Lucas was so convinced the movie would flop that on May 25, the day it was released, he went on holiday to Hawaii instead of attending the premiere.

And, as everyone knows, “Star Wars” immediately became a sensation and went on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time.

It played in theaters for one straight year, winning six Oscars and earning $775 million at the box office.

Revenue

Overall, the space epic has generated $4.4 billion in box office revenue.

While that number is below earnings by the “James Bond” or “Harry Potter” movies, the upcoming release of the seventh instalment — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — as well as two planned sequels will likely make it “the undisputed champion of the box office as far as franchises go,” said Jeff Bock, of the box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

The secret to the success of “Star Wars,” studied and analyzed in universities the world over, rests primarily with its multigenerational appeal, Kurtz said.

“Audiences of all ages could identify with the characters,” he said. “Even little kids three or four years old got the basic structure of the story and enjoyed being sucked into that kind of adventure.”

The space saga, inspired by the Flash Gordon movie serials of the 1930s, tells a classic story of good versus evil in a “galaxy far, far away,” and mixes in visual effects, a romantic plot and battle scenes.

“It jump-started the whole science fiction and fantasy era that we are still living in,” said Kuntz, who has given courses on the series at UCLA.

“‘Star Wars’ is a non-stop action movie with goofy characters and humor and portrays so many alien worlds,” he added. “It opens the door on a fascinating new universe.”

And unlike other sci-fi hit movies like “Blade Runner” and “The Matrix,” the series also gives fans reason for optimism.

“It’s not total dystopia, there is still hope,” Kuntz said.

Still, the reason behind the stellar success “Star Wars” may never be known, said Kurtz, the producer.

“I would have never thought that 40 years after the first film was released, people would still talk about it,” he said.

Also:

LOS ANGELES: Fans desperate to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on opening night can hit up Ebay, Craigslist, StubHub and other sites in a quest for scalped tickets.

Scoring seats won’t come cheap, however. Tickets for special Imax 3D showings in major cities like New York City and Los Angeles are on sale for north of $200, a steep mark-up from the roughly $20 that they usually cost.

That’s to say nothing of the more than $1,000 a pop that some scalpers are asking for tickets to an opening night event for “The Force Awakens” being hosted at Disney World. This one comes with perks. In addition to seeing the film, guests can attend an after-hours party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and tour “Star Wars”-themed attractions. Tickets to the event sold out within hours of going on sale and originally cost less than $100.

Although scalped tickets are a common feature of live events, such as concerts, ball games, or Broadway shows, it’s a rare occurrence with movies.

“There are not many other movies that have this kind of crazy cult following,” said Jared Cutler, chief strategy officer at DTI Management, a ticketing software provider. “The hype around it is a big reason. As with any type of ticket, its all about scarcity and demand.”

In the case of “The Force Awakens,” by virtue of it being the first “Star Wars” movie in a decade, there is a huge fan base eager to pay top dollar in order to be part of the water-cooler conversation. Although a few films in the past have had opening weekend tickets surface on secondary markets, among them installments in the “Twilight” and “The Dark Knight” franchises, most experts say they’ve never seen interest on this level.

History would suggest there are perils. During the hype and hysteria surrounding the release of “The Interview,” some scalpers offered tickets to a few theaters willing to brave threats of violence and show the film. They ended up getting burned after Sony, the studio behind the comedy, decided to release the film online.

There are still seats remaining to many “The Force Awakens” opening weekend shows, but excitement around the film already has theater chains scrambling to add showtimes to meet demand. Many screen times, particularly those at night, are sold out, and it’s virtually impossible to get a ticket to an Imax theater in the first few days of the films release.

Another reason that scalping may be more intense with “The Force Awakens” is that reserved seating is becoming more common. The security of knowing that moviegoers can sit with friends in a packed theater may make them more likely to shell out extra.

Many experts predict that “The Force Awakens” could make more than $200 million in its opening weekend, and the film has already shattered pre-sales records. It has sold more than $50 million in tickets with weeks left before its Dec. 18 opening.

“‘Stars Wars’ may be the one film that can get away with it,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “The demand is there and the supply is low with all these sell outs.”

The tickets may be for sale, but it’s not clear how many people are turning to eBay and other sites to score tickets. Jessica Erskine, head of entertainment communications for StubHub, notes that the demand the company has seen from sellers to list tickets is “unprecedented,” but there’s a catch.

“While there are some sellers posting and limited tickets listed, right now we aren’t seeing a high amount of demand from buyers – in fact, we haven’t sold a ticket yet,” she said.

There just isn’t much of a tradition of buying scalped movie tickets, analysts say, and while studios and theater owners aren’t planning to exert a lot of energy stopping scalpers, they’re not encouraging them either. That’s different from sporting events or concerts where ticketing services work in concert with teams or theaters. In some instances, when customers buy a ticket to a game from TicketMaster or other companies, the barcode will change — an extra layer of security that guarantees the ticket is valid. It’s a level of cooperation that helps ensure consumers don’t get scammed and one that people buying “The Force Awakens” tickets on Craigslist can’t rely on.

“It’s risky,” said Cutler. “You might never get the ticket or when it comes it’s a fake.”

The movie business has undergone a tectonic shift over the last decade that could lead to more opening night bonanzas like the one that’s sure to greet “The Force Awakens.” Studios are making fewer films and instead pooling their resources on a select group of blockbuster pictures such as “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7” that are virtually guaranteed to have huge debuts. These films typically earn the balk of their revenues in their first few days in theaters when excitement is highest.

That might lead to more scalping as pressure mounts to be part of the zeitgeist. It could also inspire dynamic pricing. Right now it costs the same amount to see “The Force Awakens” on the first weekend that it does to see it a month later. Some experts predict that pricing could rise or fall based on demand, just as it does for football games or Broadway hits like “Hamilton.”

“This is perhaps a hint at the evolution of the ticketing market for movies,” said Connor Gregoire, an analyst at ticketing provider SeatGeek. “The way movies are ticketed could be more like sporting events…at some point you may end up paying more for opening night than a matinee.”

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