Box Office: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ makes history, but who’s the next no. 1?

'Avatar 2,' 'Episode VIII' or something else?
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) arrives with Stormtroopers in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.'
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) arrives with Stormtroopers in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.'

Well, they said it couldn’t be done and we believed them.  They said holiday shopping and traveling would never allow a December debut such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to take the all-time box office opening weekend crown.  Clearly, we were all wrong.

J.J. Abrams’ latest chapter in the “Star Wars” saga took in an estimated $238 million over the weekend breaking “Jurassic World’s” three-day record of $208 million set this past June. “The Force Awakens” also has the single highest one-day gross of all-time, $120.5 million, which destroys the previous mark of $91 million set by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2” in 2011. Granted, it didn’t take the top spot internationally (“Jurassic World” still has that mark), but that’s also likely because the picture won’t open in China until January.

Media pundits and Wall Street will now be watching to see whether “The Force Awakens” has enough steam to topple “Avatar” as the no. 1 grossing film of all-time domestic and worldwide ($760.5 million and $2.788 billion respectively).  That might be hard to achieve, but something suggests it has a good shot at knocking another 20th Century Fox blockbuster, “Titanic,” from the no. 2 slot.  James Cameron’s Oscar winner grossed $658.7 million domestic and “Jurassic” came within $6 million of it this past summer.  Moreover, if “Star Wars” explodes when it finally opens in China it has an excellent shot at surpassing the $2 billion mark internationally.  At that point all bets are off.

The bigger question that will no doubt be a big topic of conversation with theater owners at CinemaCon this spring is what film can take the opening weekend crown next?  There are a number of contenders, but let’s dismiss the obvious ones immediately.  “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” is not breaking the record.  Any of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” sequels are not breaking the record.  “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is not breaking the record. “Captain America: Civil War” is not breaking the record. The eighth “Fast and Furious” film is not breaking the record.

That being said, let’s take a closer look at some of the likely contenders over the next few years.

“Finding Dory”
Opening: June 17, 2016
Why: 2003’s “Finding Nemo” is currently the third biggest hit in the history of Pixar and was no. 1 for seven years before “Toy Story 3” topped it in 2010.  By the time it hits theaters multiple generations will have enjoyed the first movie either as kids, parents or at twenty somethings (“Nemo” was a four-quadrant hit back in the day).  And if the reviews are good? Watch out.
Chances: 25% – Possible, but still improbable.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
Opening: Nov. 18, 2016
Why: It’s important to remember the last “Harry Potter” film held the no. 1 spot for a year before “The Avengers” surprised to take the crown.  This prequel doesn’t have the “Harry Potter” brand in the title (or the character for that matter), but the massive fan base has waited five years for a new adventure in this universe. They may be hungry.
Chances: 25% – Possible, but probably improbable.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Opening: Dec. 16, 2016
Why: Well, it’s opening on the same respective weekend “The Force Awakens” did and it’s a “Star Wars” movie. The negatives? It won’t have many of our favorite characters and, at this point, is believed to be more of an adult-skewed thriller which could diminish its four quadrant appeal.
Chances: 50% – Absolutely possible if the trailers really make it look special (we’ve got faith in you Gareth Edwards), but we’re not convinced it will be family friendly enough.

“Star Wars: Episode VIII”
Opening: May 26, 2017
Why: Moviegoers adore “The Force Awakens” so the anticipation on the second installment which will feature much more of Luke Skywalker should make this a major must-see.  The only issue is a historical one. Of the top 25 openings of all-time only one, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” opened over Memorial Day weekend. Will vacationing families minimize the bounty?
Chances: 90% – Probably a smart bet in Vegas.

“Untitled Spider-Man”
Opening: July 28, 2017
Why: Both “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 3” held the record at some point.  The “Amazing” franchise didn’t come close (one reason for another reboot), but the Marvel brand could really turn things around here.  If fans react warmly to Tom Holland’s portrayal when he appears in “Captain America: Civil War” it’s not out of the question.
Chances: 25% – Possible, but likely improbable.

“Justice League Part One”
Opening: Nov. 17, 2017
Why: Like “The Avengers” before it this will be the first movie centered on a superhero team that multiple generations are fans of and have been dying to see on screen together. “Batman V Superman” has to really deliver for “Justice” to hit these sorts of heights, but it’s absolutely possible.
Chances: 50%

“Avatar 2”
Opening: Dec. 27, 2017
Why: By the time “Avatar 2” opens it will have been over eight years since the original wowed moviegoers worldwide and earned a still staggering $2.788 billion.  Does James Cameron have another jaw-dropping cinematic trick up his sleeve?  We’ve learned not to doubt him…
Chances: 50% – The Christmas debut makes it tricky, but something tells us Fox might push this back a week to the “Force Awakens” opening weekend (assuming the movie even makes the date).

“Avengers: Infinity War, Pt. 1”
Opening: May 5, 2018
Why: It’s really going to depend on franchise fatigue.  If moviegoers are starting to get slightly bored by all these heroes (and “Infinity War” will have a lot of them) you might see smaller openings sort of in line with what occurred with the “Hunger Games” franchise. What it has going for it is that first weekend of May opening weekend.  Three of the top 5 all-time openers debuted in that frame and they were all Marvel releases.
Chances: 75% – And maybe 85% if Chris Pratt and the “Guardians” have a big role in the story.

“Jurassic World (Sequel)”
Opening: June 22, 2018
Why: Because the last “Jurassic” easily smashed “The Avengers” record and that key June weekend doesn’t hurt either.
Chances: 75% – Depends on how high the bar is raised by Episode VIII assuming that installment breaks Episode VII’s record.

And, of course, there could be a surprise entry into the field over the next two years.  Still, can’t hurt to bookmark this and compare it to what actually happens down the road can it?

What movie do you think will be the next no. 1 U.S. opener? Share your thoughts below.


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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.

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