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Sunday, August 30, 2015

How Realistic Are Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Box Office Predictions?

Drew Struzan's Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster
The Force won't awaken in theaters worldwide until December, but experts have already given the movie box office predictions that will have you saying "That's no moon..." 

Specifically, the current numbers include $615 million for the opening weekend, and about $2 billion in total. In comparison, this opening weekend would easily break the record this summer's Jurassic World set with $524.4 million. And $2 billion would put it just under Titanic, the second highest-grossing film of all time. These are certainly very impressive predictions, but exactly how realistic are they? To answer this, I'm going to go through all of the factors that will contribute to The Force Awakens' box office, both positively and negatively. And I'm going to reference Jurassic World several times, because it's the most recent record-breaking hit, and it also has some interesting parallels to TFA that I'll get into. 

Nostalgia

Star Wars is one of the most classic film series of all time, so it's no surprise that any sequel would draw a huge audience. Especially since The Force Awakens features the classic characters and actors form the Original Trilogy, while the despised Prequel Trilogy did not, with few exceptions. 

Nostalgia is a powerful tool of any movie. You see, with a family-oriented movie like Frozen, kids made their parents take them back to the theater again and again, which is why the movie was so successful. With The Force Awakens, it's not primarily directed towards kids, but with the power of nostalgia, adults who grew up with the Original Trilogy will be eager to see the movie and bring their kids, so that their kids can relive the "magic" of Star Wars. And even adults who don't have kids, but still grew up with the movies, will come and see it on their own.

Impact: Positive

The Trailers

The most important marketing tool of any movie is the trailers. I mean, think about it: when you go out and see a movie, it's almost always because you saw the trailer and thought it looked good, or at least cool
The very first footage released
Remember the first TFA teaser, released last November? It was only 90 seconds long, but it broke the Internet in a way that gave Kim Kardashian and her shiny butt a run for its money. It opened on the iconic sands of Tatooine Jakku (as it was later revealed), which heavily reminds the audience of the origins of Star Wars. And then there was Andy Serkis' growling voiceover, asking the viewer if they had felt "an awakening". And then suddenly, we had the black stormtrooper standing up (later confirmed to be Finn), and the Imperial Probe Droid sounds, and then the adorable astromech droid (BB-8) frantically rolling around a junkyard, and then those super-cool new stormtroopers getting ready for a hardcore drop off, and then some desert woman (Rey) desperately flying away on a speeder, and then a trio of X-Wing fighters, and then the dude in the black hood (Kylo Ren) with the CROSSGUARD LIGHTSABER!!! And then the Millenium Falcon was flying head-first into TIE fighters and John William's classic theme was playing and everything was perfect. It revealed absolutely nothing about the film, but it teased so many cool and new things.
The defining moment of the first teaser
The second teaser, released last April, was incapable of being as iconic and exciting as the first, but it tried very hard and almost succeeded. It also opened on the dunes of Tatooine, but this time another classic John Williams' theme was playing, and there was the crashed star destroyer, and Darth Vader's damaged helmet, and so much more awesome stuff like TIE fighters and a chrome-plated stormtrooper (Captain Phasma) and finally, Han and Chewie were "home", and the universe was perfect again. 

The full-length trailer that presumably will give a hint at the actual plot of the movie has yet to be released (director JJ Abrams claims it will drop in the Fall), but based on the teasers, we can easily guess that it will continue to blend new concepts and characters with classic Star Wars symbols, familiar to anyone who saw the Original Trilogy. 

And really, these teasers are no different from those for Jurassic World: you've got lots of new characters and concepts, with a sense of destruction and urgency, and of course, the nostalgia-inducing John Williams theme playing in the background. (In case you were wondering, Williams is, in fact, a musical genius who has defined our childhoods with countless awesome theme songs.) 

Impact: Positive

The Cast

A movie is nothing without its cast, and it's no secret that Jurassic World owes much of its success to star Chris Pratt, who audiences had already grown to love after last August's Guardians of the Galaxy. Seeing a familiar and likable actor could easily make someone go from "Nah, it looks stupid" to "There's Chris Pratt, I love that guy! Maybe it's worth seeing after all!"
The first cast photo of The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens features very little in terms of new star power. Out of the three new protagonists, two of the actors (Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, and John Boyega, who plays Finn) are completely unknown to most audiences, and the third (Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe Dameron) is certainly on the rise, but nowhere near the A-list level yet. As for the actors who play the new villains (Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, and Gwendoline Christie), you might recognize each of them from one specific TV show or movie, but they're C-list stars at best. 

But despite this, The Force Awakens does, in fact, have a very appealing cast; specifically, it has Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), and Harrison Ford (Han Solo), along with supporting actors from the original trilogy, like Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and Kenny Baker (R2-D2). If you think about it, they were pretty lucky to get all of the Original Trilogy cast back, and you know that most of these actors (who are old, and probably rich enough to pass on the project) wouldn't agree to return unless they thought this movie was actually going to be good. 
The original 3: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford)
I mean, these guys may have been friends on screen, but there was a lot of drama going on in the background. Kenny Baker called Anthony Daniels "The rudest man I've ever met", and Carrie Fisher said that "[Star Wars director] George Lucas ruined my life." Harrison Ford almost didn't sign on for Return of the Jedi, and since then, he's avoided talking about Star Wars for decades. But most of these actors made their career off of these movies, so it's not hard to see why they would be inclined to return. 

Impact: Positive

The Special Effects

Avatar is the #1 highest-grossing film of all time, and that's partly due to its revolutionary special effects. The Force Awakens is promising something that's entirely different from the average sci-fi action flick of the modern era: practical effects, as in real props and stunts, rather than CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). 

The biggest doubts about TFA are because of the aforementioned despised Prequel Trilogy; they've already tried making more Star Wars movies, and they sucked for the most part, so why would you want to see more? So naturally, JJ Abrams wants to distance himself from the Prequels, and using practical effects is a stark contrast to the CGI that contributed to much of the criticism of the Prequels. Now, there obviously is some CGI, but those sandy deserts aren't green screen, they're straight from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. 
JJ Abrams and Daisy Ridley on the Abu Dhabi set
Abrams also gave an amazing example of these practical effects by revealing that rolling astromech BB-8 is an actual rolling robot. Unless it turns out these practical effects are actually bad, and worse than CGI, this will be good for the movie. 

Impact: Mostly Positive 

The Critical Response

There's really only one thing that could cause the movie to make a significant amount less than predicted: if people hear that the movie is really, really bad, they're much less likely to see it. 

But I don't think that's going to be a problem. JJ Abrams has a pretty straight record, especially in terms of reviving classic sci-fi series. He directed the Stark Trek 2009 reboot and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, which weren't universally loved by fans and critics alike, but are mostly considered pretty good movies. 
JJ Abrams behind-the-scenes of Star Trek (2009)
The director and producers of the movie have repeatedly talked about how great and amazing it is, but truthfully, that doesn't mean anything. Obviously you'd like to think that your movie is good, and furthermore, as this month's Fantastic Four proved, the studio behind the movie could make some last-minute changes that negatively effect the final product. But to be fair, Fantastic Four had reports of a tumultuous production from the start, and The Force Awakens did not. 

Drew Struzan, who made the poster you can see at the very top, called The Force Awakens "the best Star Wars you've ever seen". This is slightly more reassuring, but again, whatever version of the movie he's seen could be vastly different from the final cut. 
John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Peter Mayhew, and Harrison Ford behind the scenes
The only report that I would actually trust is from Harrison Ford. As I said earlier, he was reluctant to sign on for ROTJ, and he really hates talking about Star Wars in interviews. Furthermore, unlike most of the other actors, Ford has starred in other classic films like Blade Runner and the Indiana Jones series. Despite the massive paycheck he'll be getting for The Force Awakens, he's already rich, he's had a great career outside of Star Wars, and he wouldn't return unless there was something really, really special. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy explained to EW that persuading Ford to return wasn't even difficult:
“I think what really got him excited was when he read the first draft, and he saw where we were going and what we were doing. He was immediately on board, and then he sat down and had a great conversation with J.J. and went through, in detail, what we were thinking about doing. And then, you know, Harrison — and I’ve always found this over the years with the Indiana Jones films we’ve all done together — he’s incredibly collaborative when it comes to story and developing his character, and really engaged in the process. And he was every bit that on this film."
So basically, if critics love the movie, it'll further encourage people to see the movie, and have a small positive effect on box office, but if they hate the movie, it could be bad news. 

Impact: Positive, or Hugely Negative 

Competition (or lack thereof)

Any high-budget action or sci-fi film can top its opening weekend, but as more weeks pass, and other, more appealing blockbusters open, a film can easily lose its footing. So let's take a look at what films are opening around the same date as The Force Awakens, December 18. 

Sisters (also December 18)
This movie stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as two sisters who throw a house party before their parents sell their childhood home. Comedy gold, right? Fey and Poehler have solidified themselves as two of the most popular and successful female comedians of the decade, so this movie has potential to be moderately successful. Unfortunately, it has the bad luck of opening the same day as a Star Wars movie. You see, a comedy movie and an action movie can open on the same day and both be successful, because they're targeted to very different audiences, but Star Wars encapsulates pretty much every audience. Sisters is doomed to be trampled under stormtrooper boots and rolling astromechs. Ironically, Tina Fey is a huge Star Wars fan herself, and frequently references it in her roles and writing. 
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Sisters
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (December 23)
"Hey, I know! Let's make a movie about animated chipmunks who sing pop songs in weird, squeaky voices! And then let's make a bunch of sequels, each with a chipmunk-related pun in the name, regardless of how much people hate it!" That's the thought process of the guys who made this series. So no, these annoying rodents are not going to de-throne Star Wars. If we're lucky, this will the nail in the coffin of the Chipmunks franchise. 

Joy (December 25)
Now we're nearing some actual competition. Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as the titular character, along with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, in their third film together with director David O. Russell. So we've got some serious star power, and it'll probably make around $300 million total (a very respectable sum for a drama) based on previous Lawrence/Cooper/De Niro/Russell collaborations. This is the type of movie that's going to be huge at the Oscars, not at the box office. 
Jennifer Lawrence in Joy
Point Break (December 25) 
This remake of the 1991 classic, about an FBI agent who investigates surfers that rob banks, doesn't seem to have much potential. It has very little star power, and despite featuring tons of gravity-defying stunts, it's doomed to be overshadowed by Joy.   

The Hateful Eight (January 8)
Quentin Tarantino's latest gore-fest is another western, following the success of Django Unchained. But Eight follows a much different premise: a bounty hunter escorting a fugitive to face justice is forced to stay in an inn overnight, where he meets 6 other dangerous strangers, each with their own secrets and motivations. It's safe to say that not all eight of them will be alive in the morning. So you've got lots of suspense and mystery, and a very popular director. Based on previous Tarantino films, we're looking at $300-$450 million. 
Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight
Gone are the usual Christmas Day action-adventure flicks, because they all ran away at the mere sight of the Star Wars name. So looking at all of that, The Force Awakens has a few solid weeks of very little legitimate competition. Pretty good news. 

Impact: Positive

International Release

Though American movies usually make the most money in America, it's the international box office, from other countries, that often pushes it the extra mile. For example, a lengthy portion of Transformers: Age of Extinction took place in China, where they demonstrated the effectiveness of the Chinese military, and because of that, it was a huge hit there. But it can work the other way, too; if a movie is offensive to a certain country, it could be banned there. Last November, North Korea infamously hacked and threatened Sony, which resulted in The Interview being pulled from thousands of theaters, because the movie literally features Kim Jong-un being blown up by a tank. 
Star Wars: The Force Awakens' stormtroopers
The Force Awakens is about fictional characters, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, so no, it's not going to offend anyone on Earth. It's opening in countries all over the world, from Australia to Azerbaijan, Belgium to Bahrain, China to the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, it won't be showing in the Death Star theater, because they're still bitter about that whole proton torpedo thing. Stormtroopers, am I right? 

Impact: Positive

IMAX Theaters

A key part of any movie's success is the number of theaters that play it. The more theaters, the more people who see it, the more box office money. In terms of regular theaters, The Force Awakens has no big advantage; yeah, maybe a few theaters that normally don't play action movies will play this one, but not enough to make a significant difference. 

And then we have IMAX theaters. Hollywood Reporter revealed that The Force Awakens will be taking over IMAX screens for a whole month, starting December 18. That's right, if you live in the USA or most of Europe, and you go to an IMAX theater in late December or early/mid January, TFA will be the only movie playing. 

It's not like this arrangement has never been made before; apparently all three Hobbit movies had a similar deal. But still, this won't exactly hurt the box office. 

Impact: Positive

The Hype

Forget Avengers: Age of Ultron or Spectre or Mockingjay: Part 2, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the most anticipated movie of 2015. No doubt. And this anticipation will only grow as more trailers and interviews are released. This can certainly be a good thing, but it can also be a killer. 
Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Chrstie)
I'm not just talking about a negative critical response. I mean, what if the hardcore fans, who are practically soiling themselves with anticipation, are somehow disappointed by the movie? Maybe the villains aren't as good as expected, maybe the ending isn't satisfactory, or maybe the movie is just missing the X factor that sends chills down your spine. 

Or maybe, like Age of Ultron, the movie is so overstuffed with new character and convoluted sub-plots that it ends up feeling like a 2.5 hour trailer for the upcoming movies in its cinematic universe. But to be fair, The Force Awakens doesn't have any movies to tease, other then its sequel, coming 2017. Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One (December 2016), and the untitled Han Solo and Boba Fett origin films, all take place many years before TFA. 

Basically, if the movie is anything less than the awesome masterpiece that it's been teased to be, people will be disappointed, and they'll tell their friends to not see the movie, because it's a big ol' let down. But I have faith in the filmmakers: they know what they're doing, they know how much hype they're creating, and they know how bad it could be if the movie doesn't live up to its name, so they're doing their best to make sure that doesn't happen. They're not trying, they're doing, because in the immortal words of Yoda: "Do or do not, there is no try."

Impact: Neutral, or Hugely Negative 

Conclusion

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is destined for greatness, no matter what, and it has a lot of good stuff going for it. Time to answer the original question: are those predictions realistic?

The $615 million opening weekend prediction? Pretty realistic. As I said, Jurassic World has the record with $524 million, mostly due to nostalgia for the original Jurassic Park films. Star Wars is undeniably more classic than the Jurassic franchise, and unlike World, TFA is actually bringing back the original actors. So TFA has a lot more nostalgia than Jurassic World, so it should logically make a lot more. $91 million more? Sure. Furthermore, the two riskiest factors - Critical Reception and Hype - might not even be relevant to the opening weekend; usually, it takes a few days for critics' reviews to form an overall consensus of a movie, and that consensus, good or bad, may not come to fruition until the weekend is already over, and people have seen the movie regardless of its supposed quality or satisfaction. 

The $2 billion total prediction? This is where those two risky factors really play in. If the movie is absolutely amazing and 100% satisfactory, it could pass Avatar and come close to $3 billion, making it the highest-grossing film of all time. But that won't happen. If the movie is great and mostly satisfactory, it could pass $2 billion. If it's pretty good and somewhat satisfactory, it'll sit a little below $2 billion, which would still make it the 3rd highest-grossing film of all time. And if it's mediocre and kinda disappointing, it could only make around $1.5 billion, and reach #4 or #5 on the list. And that's the bare minimum. It could be awesome, it be pretty good, it could be "meh", but I really don't see it being absolutely terrible. So the answer is: it depends. It really does. 

If you doubt any of the numbers I'm spewing out, you can check Wikipedia's list of highest-grossing films, which I referenced several times, and you can go to Google and check out the actual predictions made by experts.

How much money do you think The Force Awakens will make? Tell me in the comments, and may the force be with you all. 

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