Star Wars: Will The Force Awakens be biggest film of all time?

By Tim Masters
Arts and entertainment correspondent

Image source, Lucasfilm

The global box office is about to feel the force of the new Star Wars film. But can it topple Avatar as the highest grossing movie of all time?

If proof were needed of the excitement surrounding The Force Awakens, look no further than the queue outside the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.

By the time the film opens in the US, some fans will have been there for nearly two weeks in the hope of getting the best seats in the house.

"Very few movies can instil that kind of excitement, and Star Wars is definitely doing that," says Rentrak's Paul Dergarabedian, one of Hollywood's best-known box office analysts.

"The opening weekend is the subject of more speculation than I've ever seen for any movie ever.

"The estimates are all over the map - from anywhere as low as $180m [£120m] to a high of $300m [£200m]."

Mr Dergarabedian is predicting between $180m and $220m [£146.5m], which could smash the $208.8m (£139m) biggest opening weekend record, set by Jurassic World in June.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The Force Awakens features new faces, such as Adam Driver, and some familiar faces from the past

The highest December opening in North America belongs to the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which earned just shy of $85m (£57m) in 2012.

JJ Abrams's' new Star Wars film - the seventh in the franchise - will hit 4,100 cinemas in the US and Canada from 18 December, having last month racked up a record-breaking $50m (£33m) in advance ticket sales.

Mr Dergarabedian says its success will have a ripple effect on the future Star Wars films. The first "anthology" spin-off, Rogue One, is due out exactly a year after The Force Awakens. Episodes VIII and IX follow in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

"This movie sets the stage for all future iterations of this newly reignited franchise," he says. "With JJ Abrams at the helm, I think it's in really good hands. I think he will do for Star Wars what Christopher Nolan did for Batman."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
JJ Abrams (right), seen with Han Solo actor Harrison Ford, has directed this seventh episode of the Star Wars franchise

Only two films have ever taken more than $2bn worldwide: 1997's Titanic ($2.18bn; £1.45bn) and 2009's Avatar ($2.78bn; £1.85bn) - both directed by James Cameron.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is being released in the same pre-Christmas slot as these two box office behemoths.

So could it steal Avatar's crown as the highest grossing film of all time?

Daniel Loria, managing editor at BoxOffice Media in New York, thinks it has the potential.

"I think Avatar is within striking distance," he tells the BBC. "To unseat Avatar, you have to expect that people will go and see Star Wars multiple times, but it faces competition from a lot of event movies that are coming afterwards, such as Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight."

He predicts that, at the North American box office, Star Wars will take a total $780m (£519m), which would top Avatar's current record of $760m (£506m).

'Four quadrant' movie

At the British box office, the film to beat is James Bond movie Skyfall, which earned £103m in 2012, knocking Avatar off the top spot. The highest earning Star Wars film in the UK so far is 1999's The Phantom Menace.

But Mark Batey, chief executive of the Film Distributors' Association, predicts that The Force Awakens is about to change all that.

"Advance ticket demand has been huge," he says. "I think we're looking at the biggest Star Wars movie. The UK cinema-going public love sci-fi and fantasy adventure movies."

Vue cinemas said this week that The Force Awakens had broken pre-booking records, with 458,000 tickets sold in the UK, and one million globally.

Mr Batey describes Star Wars as the "ultimate four quadrant movie" - an industry term meaning that it appeals to male and female, young and old.

"One thing that's amazing about this film is how little we know about [the plot]," he says.

Mr Batey adds: "The production was based here, there are key British actors in the cast - there's a lot to celebrate."

'Box office stratosphere'

While Avatar and The Force Awakens were both given an 18 December release date in the US, Mr Dergarabedian points out that 2015's higher ticket prices and Imax screenings could push Star Wars "into the box office stratosphere".

"This is really good for the movie theatres because this is what they what they used to call in the 70s 'a happening'," he says.

"If you could have a dollar for every goose bump that is going to happen when people hear the first bars of that Star Wars theme, you'll have a huge opening weekend."

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out in the UK now and in the US on Friday

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