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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' blasts box office record with $238 million North American debut

This photo provided by Disney/Lucasfilm shows Daisy Ridley, right, as Rey, and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Image Credit: David James/Disney/Lucasfilm via AP
December 20, 2015 - 2:30 PM

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - To say that the force is strong with this one is an understatement.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" brought in a galactic $238 million over the weekend, making it the biggest North American debut of all time according to studio estimates on Sunday.

The Walt Disney Co. earnings destroy the previous opening record set by Universal's "Jurassic World," which drew $208.8 million this summer.

This is just the latest in a laundry list of records set by J.J. Abrams' film, the seventh in the franchise, which had analysts anticipating a debut anywhere from $150 million to $300 million.

The "X-factor" was quality. While "The Force Awakens" drew enormous pre-sales, the film was kept under lockdown from the press and critics until mere days before it was released to the public. Reviews turned out to be stellar (95 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes), as did early audience reaction, who gave the film an A CinemaScore.

Rentrak's Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian said that's the key element that may push the film to the $2 billion mark by the end of its run. Many are already going back for a second helping.

"The enthusiasm has really turned into a cultural event," said Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice-president of theatrical distribution. "It's unbelievable."

"It feels historic. The marketing team has embarked on a two-plus year journey to create this event feel," Hollis added. "It's hard to think you could replicate this, but never say never."

Males overwhelmingly drove the astronomical earnings, comprising 58 per cent of the audience.

"Many of the bigger films of the past few years have been driven by that often marginalized female audience," Dergarabedian said. "This proves that if you put the right film in the marketplace, the guys will show up in big numbers. You can still break records with one gender being the dominant one."

He predicted that over time, Daisy Ridley's protagonist may help even the gender breakdown. Hollis agreed, noting that the breakdown evened out across the weekend too. Friday audiences were 63 per cent male, he said.

The film also drew mainly adults, who made up 71 per cent of the audience. Teens accounted for only 9 per cent, but those numbers may go up in the coming weeks as holiday vacations kick in.

IMAX, 3D and other premium large format screens further helped drive the massive earnings. Nearly half of moviegoers — 47 per cent —chose to see the film on the generally pricier screens.

But "Star Wars" didn't fly alone this weekend. A few other movies attempted to provide some counterprogramming and ended up with comparatively decent results.

Almost a galaxy away, Fox's animated "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip" came in second with $14.4 million.

According to exit polls, 70 per cent of audiences were comprised of families. The film also played to a rather diverse audience with 22 per cent Hispanics and 19 per cent African-Americans.

"Starting on Monday, 73 per cent of K through 12 is out of school. Why wouldn't we make our picture available?" said Chris Aronson, Fox's president of domestic distribution as to why they released their film "in the teeth of the hurricane."

"'Star Wars' is the phenomenon it is and will continue to be, but there is another segment of the audience out there," he added.

In third place, the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy "Sisters" earned an estimated $13.4 million out of the gates. A whopping 79 per cent of audiences were female for the R-rated comedy — a solid indicator that the counterprogramming against "Star Wars" was in fact a wise choice.

"A healthy box office needs something for everyone," said Nick Carpou, Universal's president of domestic distribution, who expects a solid performance for the comedy in the weeks to come.

Rounding out the top five were "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2," with $5.7 million and "Creed," with $5.1 million.

This is the biggest overall weekend in box office history with combined grosses north of $300 million, putting 2015 in range of becoming the first $11 billion year in history.

"We're on the verge of a record-breaking year," Dergarabedian said. "I think we're going to do it."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to Rentrak. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," $238 million.

2. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip," $14.4 million.

3. "Sisters," $13.4 million.

4. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2," $5.7 million.

5. "Creed," $5.1 million.

6. "The Good Dinosaur," $4.2 million.

7. "Krampus," $3.8 million.

8. "In the Heart of the Sea," $3.5 million.

9. "Diwale," $1.9 million.

10. "Bajirao Mastani," $1.7 million.

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Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ldbahr

News from © The Associated Press, 2015
The Associated Press

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