Can Star Wars the Force Awakens Beat the Competition?

Can Star Wars the Force Awakens Really Become the Biggest Blockbuster of All Time?

Releasing on December 18th 2015 is the eagerly anticipated return to the Star Wars universe. Early tracking reveals strong numbers; numbers which suggest that, come December, we could be seeing one of the biggest box office openings of all time… But can The Force Awakens really break the box office?

Andy Pilkington: I don’t think that Disney could have even comprehended the amount of hype surrounding this title when they bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise way back in 2012.

Since then, the creative team behind The Force Awakens has provided a satisfying fan-service, resulting in creating the strongest buzz surrounding a title in recent years.

While Disney are trying to contain this hype, it’s still an interesting question to ask: Can this almost 40 year old franchise break box office records?

John-Paul Atley: Are you saying Disney paid $4 billion for a franchise they weren’t expecting to be hyped this much? I’d suggest the current hysteria surrounding anything remotely Star Wars, especially in the toy market, is exactly what Disney paid for.

The real problem is that hype and hysteria doesn’t translate into box office. If it did, the Comic Con audience would be kingmakers and the Phantom Menace would be sitting at the top of box office records.

I have a bad feeling about this

AP: I can agree with that. Star Wars isn’t a new franchise – it has been around for 40 years and by now, audiences have decided whether or not they are fans or not.

This isn’t just going to prove an issue domestically for Disney, but worldwide; connecting with an audience who have already made up their minds if they like your film or not is a difficult challenge.

JP: This will be the seventh (technically eighth, counting the Clone Wars animated film) theatrically released Star Wars film since 1977. By comparison, Skyfall was the 23rd James Bond film in the Eon series and the most commercially successful of the franchise.

I don’t think the age of a franchise has any bearing on its success or failure.

If The Force fails to Awaken come December, it won’t be because it was the seventh Star Wars film.

Moving forward

AP: Let me be clear – by no means do I think Star Wars will come anywhere close to being considered a flop. I think it will very easily break a billion worldwide.

What I doubt is if the film can perform relative to its surrounding buzz. Recent polls by Piedmont Media Research suggests, at least domestically, that audiences are showing stronger intent in seeing the final installment of The Hunger Games, with Star Wars tailing behind.

JP: There are some factors to consider there: Firstly, this is the final installment of the Hunger Games franchise (until the next one) whereas The Force Awakens is meant to kickstart a new generation of that franchise. That immediately warrants a differing excitement level.

There’s also the power of the female market, which is still underestimated and overlooked; Hunger Games is particularly popular in this demo and they’ll come out in force.

If Disney’s marketing department has any sense, the next Force Awakens trailer will be attached to every print of Hunger Games and play up Daisy Ridley’s character Rey. It would be easy to position her as the rightful heir of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss.

AP: That’s probably the smartest move that they could make at this point – all materials released so far serve a purpose to convince fans that this is the worthy Episode 7 that they have been waiting for since 1983. That’s been successful, now it’s time for them to move on and motivate hesitant audiences.

Breaking records?

AP: Let me ask you this, do you think Star Wars can beat box office records set earlier this year? Maybe even beat Avatar?

JP: No. What’s more, I don’t think Disney would want it to; if it became the biggest box office hit, it would immediately shift the conversation over whether Episode 8 can beat it. This is a lose-lose scenario for Disney – everyone is primed for the ‘Star Wars is a disaster headline’. I don’t think those will be justified.

Much noise has been made about Hunger Games tracking higher than Star Wars, but they’re hardly in direct competition – launching a month apart – and even then, the audience intent numbers aren’t a million miles away from each other.

Star Wars is a safe bet for Disney; by the time The Force Awakens debuts in theatres, Rogue One will have almost completed shooting (assuming they resolve the issues with the script) and Episode 8 will have key sequences completed. In the unlikely scenario that Force Awakens is a dud, there are still two more Star Wars films coming.

A safer strategy long-term, and one I’m sure Disney is quietly hoping for, is a respectable opening weekend (that meets their internal expectations) and a consistent box office draw across the entire franchise. Essentially the Marvel model.

AP: If you’re right and their expectations are realistic, then I’m sure that many Disney execs will return to work after the holidays satisfied.

JP: And even if they’re not, they’ll still talk up the prospect of sequels.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released in most territories December 18th 2015.

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