So there’s this movie opening this weekend. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s a sequel to a beloved sci-fi series starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. It’s definitely going to be No. 1 at the box office this weekend. It could also break a whole lot of records along the way.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally here, and the biggest question — okay, the second biggest question besides “Where is Luke Skywalker?” — is, just how huge is this thing going to be? Based on presale data and preliminary international numbers, we know that The Force Awakens is off to a great start. But beyond knowing that it’s going to be big, it’s much harder to predict an exact number, mainly because there’s never been another movie quite like this.
There are a lot of factors at play, from The Force Awakens’ December release date to its international rollout schedule. Besides, box office tracking and predictions are far less accurate when you start looking at openings above $100 million. (Remember when we thought Jurassic World was only going to open to $125 million? Ha.) And this is a follow-up to one of the most beloved franchises of all time. The anticipation is arguably much higher than it was even when The Phantom Menace hit theaters in 1999, and reviews have been stellar: It’s certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with 94 percent.
Right now, most predictions range from $175 to $225 million, but that’s a wide margin. If The Force Awakens stays on the lower end of things, it’ll still be one of the top five biggest openings of all time. If it breaks $200 million, it’ll become only the third movie to ever do so. And if it makes more than $208.8 million, it’ll dethrone Jurassic World to earn the biggest opening of all time.
Let’s take a look at what could happen this weekend, starting with…
Records The Force Awakens has already broken
Widest December release ever: The Force Awakens is officially opening in 4,134 theaters, making it the widest release ever for a movie opening in December. That number includes a record 392 IMAX screens, more than 3,300 3-D locations, 451 premium large format screens, and 146 D-Box locations.
Most Fandango tickets ever sold over a movie’s entire theatrical release: Fandango reports that The Force Awakens has already sold more tickets than any other movie over its entire theatrical run — and that’s before it’s even opened yet.
Various international records: Lucky viewers overseas got to see The Force Awakens before it debuted Stateside, and it opened yesterday in 12 international markets, pulling in an estimated $14.1 million on opening day. The film saw the biggest opening day of all time in countries like Belgium, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. In France, it earned more than double what The Avengers and Jurassic World did on their opening days, setting multiple records. The Force Awakens opens Thursday in another 32 international markets, including Germany, the U.K., Russia, Australia, Korea, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, and tomorrow, it will also open in Japan and Spain. By the end of the weekend, the only places where it won’t be open is China, India, and Greece, which means that it could set some big global box office records. Which brings us to…
Records The Force Awakens could break
Biggest opening of all time: This is the big one. Just a few months ago, Jurassic World blew past expectations to open to $208.8 million, setting a new record and narrowly beating out The Avengers’ $207.4 million. Jurassic World opened in more theaters (4,274), and a December release has never debuted to more than $100 million, but some of the more gung-ho box office experts think The Force Awakens could pull it off.
Biggest December opening: No movie has ever opened in December to more than $85 million, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey currently holds that record with $84.6 million. Star Wars is on track to open to more than double that number. December releases rarely hit the kind of opening weekend heights that the big summer blockbusters do, mainly because everyone’s busy shopping, traveling, and celebrating the holidays. But what many December movies lack in opening numbers, they make up for in multiples: Even though Avatar only opened to $77 million in December, it went on to make almost $750 million domestically, making it the biggest movie of all time. See also: Titanic.
Largest Thursday preshow: Over the past few years, more and more high-profile releases have shifted from midnight openings to Thursday-evening preshows. The current pre-opening record holder is still Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which earned $43.5 million, but that was from midnight showings. Star Wars preshows kick off tonight at 7 p.m., giving it a few more hours to add to its total.
Largest single day: No movie has ever made $100 million in a single day. Since Thursday preshows will factor into Friday’s total, there’s a chance that The Force Awakens could pull it off. If it does, it’ll also become the fastest movie to reach $100 million, since Jurassic World took two days to hit that number.
Biggest international opening: Jurassic World holds this record, too, with $316.1 million. $99 million of that came from China, an added bonus The Force Awakens won’t have, but the previous record holder, Deathly Hallows Part 2, still earned $314 million internationally, even without China.
And that doesn’t even begin to cover records beyond this weekend. Once we see how The Force Awakens plays out this weekend, we should have a better idea of how it’ll hold up over the coming weeks and what kind of final total it’s looking at. (Avatar and Titanic are still the only movies to cross $2 billion worldwide.)
But with all this talk about Star Wars, there are actually two other movies hitting theaters this weekend, and while The Force Awakens is going to tower over them like an Imperial star destroyer over a Rebel blockade runner, both Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and Sisters are looking at a double-digit opening.
Here’s how this weekend’s top five might play out.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens — $200 million
See above. We may not know exactly how much The Force Awakens is going to bring in this weekend, but we do know that a) it’s going to make a lot of money and b) it’ll be No. 1.
2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip — $12 million
Opening in about 3,700 theaters, the fourth entry in the Alvin animated series is expected to debut well under what the first three opened to. The Squeakquel earned the best Chipmunks opening with $48.9 million in 2009, while the most recent entry, 2011’s Chipwrecked, only debuted to $23.2 million. Reviews haven’t been great, with an 18 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Road Chip is expected to land somewhere in the low teens, although it could benefit from being a PG-rated alternative to the PG-13-rated Star Wars.
3. Sisters — $10 million
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler teamed up again for Sisters, which is opening in about 2,950 theaters. Pitch Perfect’s Jason Moore directed, and Universal notes that there hasn’t been a female-oriented R-rated comedy since Trainwreck in July. With a 71 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Sisters is expected to open around $10 million.
Beyond Alvin and Sisters, there are several movies all jockeying for fourth and fifth place. Just as it’s hard to predict what The Force Awakens will do, it’s hard to predict how it will affect all the holdovers that are still in theaters. In The Heart of the Sea and Creed could present a nice alternative as they’re both adult-oriented dramas (although according to data from MovieTickets.com, most people buying Star Wars tickets are about 44 years old).
EW will be updating with more box office news as numbers come in throughout the weekend, and check back Sunday for our full box office report.