There's no denying that J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is going to be a massive hit at the box office when it opens on December 18, 2015. The continuation of the beloved space opera not only sees a new generation of heroes and villains take center stage, but will also feature returning veterans like Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. It will be a generational moviegoing experience that appeals to both young and old - especially if it's a good movie.
What remains the biggest question is just how large the Force Awakens' box office haul will be when it's all said and done. It's certainly a realistic contender to become the highest-grossing film of all time, and the odds of it reaching that mark will be constantly discussed over the next few months - even as Disney tries to downplay expectations.
Variety did a preview of the holiday box-office season, and The Force Awakens was the centerpiece of their report. In their article, it's noted that some outlets are predicting a domestic opening weekend of $300 million - which would blow the record established this summer by Jurassic World completely out of the water. But for several reasons, that figure seems extremely unattainable.
Even as The Force Awakens will dominate IMAX screens for a four week period, it's hard to see it reaching that lofty total in its first three days alone. It's important to keep in mind that no December release in cinematic history has grossed $100 million in its debut. The record for that month belongs to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with $84.6 million. And December has been home to many box office behemoths of years past, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I Am Legend, and the current highest-grossing film ever, Avatar.
Now, it's entirely likely that with the IMAX and 3D premiums (coupled with fervent anticipation), The Force Awakens will break new ground and cross the $100 million milestone in its opening weekend. However, it may be wise for people to cool on the notion of it surpassing Jurassic World. Abrams' film is coming out in the middle of December, where inclement weather could become a roadblock for moviegoers living in certain markets. Also, many consumers will be frantically finishing their holiday shopping and preparation, simply not having time to make the trek to a theater. Again, Star Wars will be a major smash, but the record books may still belong to Chris Pratt and his raptors.
That doesn't mean that The Force Awakens will not be able to work its way up the all-time charts. For what it's worth, Avatar opened with "only" $77 million in the States and eventually grossed $749.7 million by the time its run was over. Star Wars could very well have a similar slow burn to the number one position, particularly if word of mouth is strong. For the whole time it was in theaters, Avatar was the beneficiary of Oscar buzz and had the status of a "must see" movie event. Force Awakens may not replicate the awards consideration, but if the critic reviews are largely positive and fans respond enthusiastically, people will be returning time and time again for repeat viewings.
This holiday season also features a number of high-profile releases that shockingly do not take place in a galaxy far, far away. So-called "smaller" films like David O. Russell's Joy, Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, and Alejandro Iñárritu's The Revenant (among others) are all expected to be buzz-worthy offerings of their own and have fruitful box-office performances. With so many options opening in a short period of time, cinephiles (who have already seen Star Wars) may be jumping around to the other projects, "taking away" repeat business from The Force Awakens when these titles expand in January. Obviously, none of these will top Star Wars, but the bevy of choices may make ticket sales for Episode VII slow down earlier than expected.
Of course, what matters most to the Star Wars community is not how much money The Force Awakens will make; all they want is for it to be the triumphant return to form the trailers seem to be promising. If it can reach that level of quality, there's a good chance it can pose a challenge to Avatar, but there are no guarantees with all of the other films coming out. Regardless, the Force will be very strong with the box office this December, no matter how many records fall or stay intact.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.