In terms of safe box office bets, few things are as reliable as the Star Wars franchise. It's arguably the most popular film franchise in the world, building up a passionate and loyal fan base over nearly four decades. Even when the property takes an extended break from the big screen, interest in new Star Wars projects are always high. That's the kind of impact the galaxy far, far away has left on the zeitgeist.
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm back in 2012, the countdown began for the film that would become Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. Finally reaching theaters in December 2015, the movie has had an unprecedented box office run, smashing a variety of records, including the fastest to $1 billion worldwide and a new all-time high for total domestic gross. Even though its chances of topping Avatar's $2.7 billion globally are slim, Star Wars 7 is about to punch its ticket into a very exclusive club.
Variety is reporting that The Force Awakens should hit $2 billion worldwide by the end of the week. As of this writing it only needs to make $17 million more to reach that figure. Even though business is starting to slow down after its rapid fire start, there's still great interest in seeing the new Star Wars movie on the big screen. In this past weekend, it brought in $10.7 million in the States and another $12.6 million internationally. With so few high-profile films playing right now, there isn't much out there that can match the appeal of Force Awakens.
When Star Wars 7 does get to $2 billion, it will become just the third film in cinematic history to cross that milestone. The others are two James Cameron epics: Avatar and Titanic (which both had theatrical re-releases to pad their original totals). With Force Awakens still performing well, it should be able to top Titanic's $2.18 billion before it's out of theaters. Regardless of where it finishes on the all-time worldwide charts, Disney will recoup roughly half of the $4.05 billion they paid for Lucasfilm with just a single theatrical release. And of course, this only scratches the surface of what the Mouse House has planned for the franchise.
Looking at these astronomical figures, it shouldn't come as any surprise Disney pushed Star Wars 8 back seven months to December 2017. They want to replicate the success of The Force Awakens with the coming installments of the sequel trilogy, and the easiest way to do that is to imitate the release strategy as much as possible. A new Star Wars film was going to be financially successful whenever it came out, but the holiday season window proved to be extremely lucrative. In contrast from the summer, there weren't any other "event" style films opening over the winter, meaning Force Awakens essentially had the box office to itself, maximizing the profits by being the only blockbuster in town. In all likelihood, Disney will make December the new permanent home for the franchise so each new Star Wars can rein supreme.
And that ultimately would be a smart decision on their part. By now, it's not a coincidence that the only three movies to gross $2 billion were released in December, taking advantage of the limited competition and welcoming repeat viewings over an extended period of time. Not only that, Disney seems to have the summer market covered with their Marvel movies such as Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Avengers: Infinity War, which are kicking off the next three Mays. The studio wants to avoid as many similar-minded films as they can, and that includes their own. In the old days, Star Wars ruled the summer, but now it's taking a page out of the Lord of the Rings playbook and staking out December on an annual basis.
Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, and will be followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode 8 on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.