Box office awaits show of 'Star Wars' force

Brian Truitt

After months of hype, excitement and staggering quantities of licensed merchandise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is already the most anticipated movie ever. Could it also be the biggest box-office hit of all time?

The seventh film in the sci-fi franchise blasts off for a new generation with preview showings Thursday night.

Financially, “it’s already a total win," Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian says. But "whether it becomes an iconic watershed kind of movie, that’s up to the movie.”

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a major new villain in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.'

The Force Awakens has several domestic box-office records in its sights: opening day (the record is $91 million, set by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in 2011), opening weekend ($208.8 million, owned by Jurassic World this past June) and all-time haul (the $760.5 million raked in by Avatar in 2009 and 2010).

Predictions have bordered on the absurd, ranging from $150 million to $300 million in its first weekend, Dergarabedian says. The Force Awakens has a good chance of breaking opening marks, but “it’s not a foregone conclusion,” says Mike Ryan, senior writer for the entertainment site Uproxx. “Slow and steady is the norm” for December releases, with the biggest to date being The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s $84.6 million in 2012. (In its favor: The Force Awakens already has sold more than $50 million worth of pre-sale tickets.)

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The movie's December slot should help it stick around in theaters for a while. “The Force Awakens has no legitimate competition until mid-February, when (X-Men movie) Deadpool opens,” editor Mike Sampson says.

It’s a “realistic” possibility that Force Awakens will be the first movie to reach $3 billion worldwide, Dergarabedian says, topping the $2.79 billion and $2.19 billion earned by Avatar and 1997's Titanic, respectively.

But “it can’t just be Star Wars," Ryan adds. "It has to be good Star Wars.”

BB-8 is among the latest 'Star Wars' characters being introduced to a new generation in 'The Force Awakens.'

If The Force Awakens is a satisfying Star Wars episode for the masses, it could potentially muscle out Marvel’s superhero fare as the hottest thing going in pop culture, says Devin Faraci, writer and critic for the film website Birth.Movies.Death. “And Star Wars fandom, already very mainstream, is going to become the defining fandom of the time.”

More important, The Force Awakens could bring a whole new audience to Star Wars, Sampson says. With Daisy Ridley as the new main character Rey, it has “the opportunity to introduce Star Wars to young girls, as they follow the story of a smart, resourceful young woman.”

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The movie could also teach the industry that diverse leading casts make money, Faraci says.

“None of the three main new heroes are white men," he says. "I hope that Hollywood sees the wonderful breadth of people leading this film and wants to replicate that."