By Shawn Robbins
Henceforth, let 2015 simply be known as The Year of Disney (if it wasn't already).
373 days since last year's blockbuster announcement that the Mouse House would move forward on a new Star Wars movie as part of their $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm, we now know *when* the world will see it: Friday, December 18, 2015.
The writing was pretty much on the wall when Disney CEO Bob Iger reaffirmed the film wouldn't be pushed to 2016, despite Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy's request to do so in the wake of Abrams and The Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan taking over writing duties from Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine). We knew then that any chance of a Summer 2015 opening was officially gone.
When looking at how crowded that year is, and considering the potential of a leggy run through early 2016, that's a very good thing.
Episode VII will mark the first movie in the franchise to open in a month other than May. It does, however, hold up the series' tradition of opening one week before a major holiday. Whereas George Lucas debuted his six films prior to Memorial Day, the next era of Star Wars has staked its claim for the highly lucrative Christmas moviegoing season.
While fan debate can now shift focus to casting rumors before filming begins in early 2014, what can we start expecting in terms of Episode VII's box office potential?
Let's address the elephant in the room: a potential opening weekend record has to be considered. Historically, though, December isn't known for delivering all-time records. The last six opening crowns belong to summer releases, with November 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone representing the only non-summer film to ever own it. Conversely, the current December record belongs to last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and its $84.6 million--a figure which we imagine Star Wars should have little trouble surpassing (that is, if The Hobbit retains that particular trophy for two more years).
Nearing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II's midnight record ($43.5 million) could be on the table as well. That film had the benefit of a mid-July debut when kids are out of school, but that was before the current trend of midnight Friday launches being axed in favor of 8pm Thursday openings.
Of course, Star Wars isn't Disney's only mega-tentpole in 2015. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is still set for release on May 1 that year, and you can safely bet it will be gunning for its predecessor's standing record launch of $207,438,708. They also have a reimagining of Cinderella set for March, Pixar's Inside Out in June, Marvel's Ant-Man in July, and Pixar's The Good Dinosaur in November.
Expectations will naturally reach absurdly high levels for both anticipated films, but the opening weekend title is something both Star Wars and Avengers are capable of reaching again. For the record, no studio has ever broken the all-time standard twice in one year.
Guessing at domestic and overseas grosses at this point is even more of a roll of the dice. The response to the film will factor heavily, but with that caveat in mind, it's hard to imagine Episode VII not being a strong candidate for $450-500 million or more domestically.
Could it also become the first film not directed by James Cameron to gross $1 billion overseas? Prior to The Phantom Menace's 3D re-release, no Star Wars flick had crossed that mark globally--however, no Star Wars flick has released in the modern era of 3D, IMAX saturation, and market expansion from countries like China and Russia, among others. With the might of Disney's marketing muscle behind it, a well-received movie could translate into a historic winter at the box office.
Records aside, Star Wars will continue to wreak havoc on the release schedule. Studios were avoiding the Memorial Day 2015 slot (now taken by Disney's own Tomorrowland) not just because of the Avengers sequel kicking off the month, but because most of the world presumed that's where Episode VII would land. With a December 18 bow on the books, it's only a matter of time before Universal moves their planned Warcraft film. The video game adaptation from director Duncan Jones had previously chosen the same date just over a month ago. Unless production speeds up, or wiser minds don't prevail, look for that flick to soon be delayed (again) to 2016.
Also scheduled for that December are Alvin and the Chipmunks 4 (December 11) and Kung Fu Panda 3 (December 23), both of which are likely to move as Fox (who are distributing both animated sequels) will want to avoid the crossover with Star Wars between family and kiddie audiences. December 18's Inferno and December 23's Live By Night should be relatively unaffected by today's news, serving as holiday counter-programming for older crowds.
Those possible moves could only scratch the surface of studio shuffling. For all we know, Disney itself may even ponder moving one or two of their planned 2015 movies.
Ultimately, there's plenty of time to speculate and a lot more hurdles to climb before we know what J.J. Abrams' Star Wars will look like. But after a long year of waiting, patient (and impatient) fans, alongside the entire movie industry, can finally pencil in a date on their calendars.
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Thor is taking over the overseas market ahead of its North American release. The superhero sequel opened in 36 overseas territories as early as Wednesday to finish its first weekend outside of North America with a $109.4 million tally, posting the fourth biggest overseas weekend of 2013. The nine-figure push from Thor has made 2013 Disney's most profitable year of all time in the overseas box office, surpassing 2010's record of $2.302 billion.
The original Thor film opened in May 2011 to a surprise challenge from Bridesmaids, finishing its North American run with $181 million and culminating its overseas performance with a $265 million cume. Thor’s worldwide gross came in at $446 million.
The franchise received a significant boost from the following year’s release of Marvel’s The Avengers, which took in $207.4 million in its North American debut alone. The Avengers continued to make box office history with a $1.514 billion worldwide theatrical run.
Opting out of a packed summer, Thor: The Dark World began its overseas roll out this past weekend in 36 territories, a week ahead of its North American premiere. The film is currently estimated to have topped the box office charts in all of its markets. The only other films to have posted $100M+ weekends overseas are Iron Man 3 and Fast 6. The two $100M+ weekends from Iron Man 3 give Disney’s Marvel releases three of the four $100M+ weekends of 2013. The studio's superhero investment has paid off handsomely, and the upcoming Star Wars releases will likely increase Disney's box office muscle.
The top performing markets for Thor: The Dark World include the United Kingdom ($13.4M), France ($9.4M), Mexico ($8.2M), Brazil ($8.1M), Germany ($7.9M), Russia ($7.8M), South Korea ($7.6M), and Australia ($6.9M). The Thor sequel is easily outpacing its predecessor in the same number of markets. The film will expand to China next weekend, as well as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lebanon, Poland, South Africa, Thailand, India, Vietnam, Trinidad, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Bolivia. Upcoming releases include Argentina (November 14), Italy (November 20), and Japan (February 1, 2014).
Bad Grandpa put up a fight against Thor in its first hold overseas, falling only 15% in its second weekend in markets that had already opened. Three smaller markets combined with last weekend’s sixteen premieres to bring in $6 million. Bad Grandpa has now grossed a total of $17.6 million overseas for the Jackass crew, a figure that already surpasses the lifetime overseas totals of Jackass The Movie and Jackass Number Two, respectively.
The raunchy comedy got a 5% bump in its second weekend in Germany, delivering a $3.1 million hold from 374 cinemas. The 11-day total of Bad Grandpa in Germany is $7.2 million. The United Kingdom posted a $1.6 million hold from 380 sites in its second frame, a 28% slide that takes its U.K. cume to $6.6 million. Bad Grandpa will open in Norway next weekend and will hit Australia, its next major market, on November 14.
Gravity crossed two major milestones over the weekend: passing $200 million overseas mark and $400 million worldwide. The sci-fi film earned $27.1 million from 5,270 screens in 55 markets over the weekend. Gravity is now at a $207.5 million overseas total and $426.7 million global cume.
France brought in $10.6 million in its second weekend, a 12% drop from last weekend’s premiere. Gravity would have normally held on to the top spot at the French box office with such a strong hold, but finished its second frame in second place after narrowly losing to Thor: The Dark World. Gravity has grossed a total of $27.1 million in France. The film also broke the $20 million mark in South Korea ($20.7M, 3rd Weekend), and Russia ($20.3M, 5th Weekend). Other top markets for the sci-fi film include Australia ($15.8M), Germany ($15.4M), Mexico ($14.8M), Spain ($9.8M), Italy ($8.4M), and Brazil ($7.2M).
Gravity will open in the United Kingdom on November 8, China on November 20, and Japan on December 13.
Despicable Me 2 is on track to surpass Fast 6 as the second biggest film overseas of 2013. The Minions have grossed a $547 million overseas total to date, only $2.3 million behind the final overseas tally of Fast 6. Despicable Me 2 is the sixth highest grossing film of all time outside of north America, with its sights now set on overtaking Finding Nemo’s $555.9 million – a difficult task this late into its run. Despicable Me 2 is currently the fifth highest grossing animated film of all time worldwide with a $911.9 million cume.
Turbo continues to post strong holds across Europe. The animated film collected $12.2 million from 21 markets over the weekend, including stellar results from five markets in Western Europe.
Turbo reached an $18.7 million cume in France after finishing its third frame with a $4.4 million take from 700 screens. Turbo was the #3 film in the country behind Thor: The Dark World and Gravity. Turbo also came in third in its third weekend in Spain, earning $1.3 million from 457 screens to take its total to $5.3 million. The United Kingdom brought in $2.1 million in its third frame, finishing the weekend as the #5 film and reaching a $15.6 million cume. Turbo’s second weekend in Belgium brought in $1.3 million, taking the film’s total to $3 million and forcing a photo-finish for the top spot in the country against Thor that will have to be settled once the weekend actuals are reported. Turbo’s fifth weekend in Germany brought in $1 million from 865 screens and put the film on the edge of the $10 million mark with a $9.6 million cume.
The Counselor survived a tough opening in Russia, where a $2 million debut was only enough for a #5 finish on the table. The thriller also finished the weekend in fifth place in Brazil after a $327K hold took the film’s cume to $1 million in the market. The Counselor has grossed a total of $3.4 million overseas and $17 million worldwide.
The Wolverine added another $2.3 million from China to take its overseas total to $282.8 million. The film dropped to #3 in the market in its third weekend to reach a $37.4 million cume in the country. The Wolverine has grossed a total of $415.1 million worldwide.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters had a $1.5 million debut in Japan to take its overseas total to $129 million. The Percy Jackson sequel has grossed a total of $196.4 million worldwide, still under the $227.2 million global total of the original.
Planes added $2.4 million from 56 territories in its thirteenth weekend overseas, taking its overseas cume to $123.4 million and its global tally to $212.7 million. Top markets for the animated film include the United Kingdom ($13.7M), France ($12.5M), Spain ($7.8M), Mexico ($7.4M), Germany ($7.4M), Australia ($7M), Brazil ($6.3M), and Russia ($5.6M).
Sunday Update: Lionsgate's Ender's Game debuted in first place this weekend with an estimated $28.0 million. The sci-fi film starring Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford debuted in line with pre-release expectations. Ender's Game opened in the same neighborhood as the respective $29.81 million and $27.52 million debuts of Elysium and After Earth earlier this year. Going forward, Ender's Game will hope to display holding power more along the lines of Elysium than After Earth, though that may be easier said than done with Disney's Thor: The Dark World and fellow Lionsgate release The Hunger Games: Catching Fire both entering the marketplace in the coming weeks.
Ender's Game opened with $9.84 million on Friday (which included an estimated $1.4 million from early shows on Thursday night), increased 10 percent on Saturday to gross $10.80 million and is estimated to fall 32 percent to take in $7.36 million on Sunday. That gave Ender's Game an estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio of 2.85 to 1. The audience breakdown for the film skewed towards male moviegoers (58 percent) and towards moviegoers over the age of 25 (54 percent). Ender's Game received a solid B+ rating on CinemaScore.
Holding up surprisingly well this weekend was Paramount's Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The Jackass spin-off starring Johnny Knoxville fell 36 percent from last weekend to place in second with an estimated $20.5 million. Bad Grandpa held up significantly better than previous Jackass films, as good word of mouth and last weekend's debut possibly being deflated a bit by Halloween weekend festivities both helped out the film this weekend. In comparison, 2006's Jackass: Number Two fell 50 percent its second weekend to gross $14.61 million, while 2010's Jackass 3D declined 58 percent to gross $21.31 million. With a healthy ten-day start of $62.06 million, Bad Grandpa is currently running 19 percent ahead of the $52.07 million ten-day take of Jackass: Number Two and 29 percent behind the $86.86 million ten-day gross of Jackass 3D.
It was a close race for third place this weekend between fellow newcomers Last Vegas and Free Birds. Based on studio estimates, CBS Films' ensemble comedy Last Vegas has the edge with a third place take of $16.52 million. That outpaced the $16.20 million estimated fourth place take of Relativity's 3D computer animated Free Birds by an estimated $320,000 for the frame. Last Vegas opened on the high end of expectations, while Free Birds debuted towards the lower end of expectations. Going forward, both films will hope to hold up well in the weeks ahead; Free Birds in part from aid from the approaching Thanksgiving holiday and Last Vegas in part from skewing towards older moviegoers.
Free Birds opened with $4.00 million on Friday, increased 84 percent on Saturday to gross $7.34 million and registered an estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio of 4.05 to 1; a sure sign that it is skewing very heavily towards family audiences. Meanwhile, Last Vegas debuted with $5.1 million on Friday, increased a strong 39 percent on Saturday to gross $7.09 million and generated an encouraging estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio of 3.24 to 1. Both films received promising A- ratings on CinemaScore.
Warner's Gravity rounded out the weekend's top five with an estimated $13.13 million. The 3D sci-fi blockbuster was down 35 percent from last weekend, which represented a very solid hold given that the film lost its IMAX screens to Ender's Game this weekend. Gravity has grossed $219.196 million through 31 days of release, which currently ranks the film as the eighth highest grossing release of 2013. Before much longer Gravity will surpass the $228.78 million gross of Star Trek Into Darkness to move into seventh place.
Captain Phillips also continued to hold up well this weekend with an estimated sixth place take of $8.5 million. The awards season hopeful from Sony was down 27 percent from last weekend and has grossed $82.55 million in 24 days. That leaves Captain Phillips $17.45 million away from reaching the $100 million domestic milestone.
On the limited front, Fox Searchlight's 12 Years a Slave expanded well this weekend with an estimated $4.6 million from 410 locations. That gave the Steve McQueen directed awards season hopeful a per-location average of $11,220 for the frame. The film's location average was down 35 percent from last weekend (when it was playing in only 123 locations), which is a good sign for the film going forward. 12 Years a Slave has grossed $8.76 million through 17 days of limited release.
Elsewhere in limited release, Universal's About Time debuted with an estimated $1.06 million from 175 locations. That gave the sci-fi romance starring Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams a relatively modest per-location average of $6,045 for the frame. About Time is currently scheduled to play in 1,200+ locations next weekend.
Focus' Dallas Buyers Club was off to a more noteworthy start in platform release. The awards season hopeful starring Matthew McConaughey grossed an estimated $264,128 from 9 locations, giving it a very solid per-location average of $29,348. Dallas Buyers Club will expand into additional markets next weekend.
Saturday Update: Lionsgate reports that Ender's Game launched to $9.9 million on Friday, including Thursday evening's $1.4 million from early shows. That puts the flick on pace for a possible $28 million opening weekend if younger audiences continue turn out over the weekend. The first day returns were on par with After Earth's $9.8 million and 25.5 percent behind Oblivion's $13.3 million, however, Saturday matinees could yet prove to be strong for Ender's.
Early word of mouth for the adaptation appears decent with the film's Flixster score remaining at 76 percent since early Friday (after the fan base drove Thursday night's shows). The competition from Thor: The Dark World starting next week is likely to cut short legs, however, the holiday season could help Ender's Game to ultimately find solid footing.
Last Vegas debuted to a healthy $5.1 million yesterday, not too far off from the $6.35 million first day of summer's Red 2 despite Vegas not being a sequel with built-in appeal. The CBS Films release mounted a campaign that successfully targeted older crowds for the start of a month that will be heavy on younger-leaning films. Critics haven't taken to the film (giving it a disappointing 41 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and while Flixster stands at an underwhelming 72 percent right now, that social media platform generally caters more toward younger crowds. CinemaScore was a much stronger "A-". BoxOffice projects Last Vegas will total $15.3 million for its debut weekend.
Relativity's Free Birds cooked up $4.0 million for its Friday opening, continuing the modest performance from animated flicks since late summer. Critics also haven't been kind to the flick, giving it a 22 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. We're expecting a $15.5 million opening frame for Free Birds.
On the platform front, 12 Years a Slave took in $1.265 million after its expansion into 410 theaters this weekend for an average of $3,085 per theater on Friday. The film's cume is now $5.425 million as it heads toward a projected $4.4 million weekend. By comparison, No Country for Old Men earned $3,605 per theater from its third weekend expansion into 860 theaters. 12 Years will need to continue building on its superb critical buzz in order to connect with mainstream crowds over the next few months.
Friday Update #2: Sources tell BoxOffice that Ender's Game could end up with $33 million during its debut frame. If word of mouth is strong enough, the sci-fi flick could even hit $35 million. Anything above $30 million would mark a solid opening for the Lionsgate release. It's important for Ender's Game to make as much as it can this weekend because the release of Thor: The Dark World next weekend will definitely hurt it. Either way, with the combined strength of Ender's Game and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lionsgate is poised to have a healthy month of November.
Free Birds could end up with as much as $18 million in the bank. That's a modest start for Relativity's animated flick. The market has not been kind to animated films as of late and even established properties such as the The Smurfs and Planes have had a tough time meeting expectations.
CBS Films has a winner on their hands with Last Vegas. Early projections indicate that the comedy could hit as much as $16 million during its debut frame. The adult-skewing film should hold up well in the weeks to come considering that moviegoers over 35--the core audience on this one--don't have the same rush-out mentality as younger patrons.
Check back tomorrow for official studio estimates and updated weekend projections.
Friday Update #1: Lionsgate reports that Ender's Game managed $1.4 million from Thursday evening shows. That puts it comfortably ahead of the $1 million haul that After Earth--another sci-fi flick focused on a young, male protagonist--managed from Thursday preview shows. After Earth managed a debut of $27.5 million even though it was hindered by negative buzz.
Early audience reactions to Ender's Game seem mostly positive. The sci-fi flick currently boasts a 76% approval rating on Flixster from nearly 48K user ratings. Unfortunately, critics are not embracing the film: Ender's Game has only a 61% approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com.
Check back later for more updates.