Grossing an estimated $544.6 million in North America in just 10 days — including yet another record-setting $153.5 million over its second weekend — Star Wars: The Force Awakens has defied comparison or categorization in its seemingly unstoppable march to total box office domination.
The seventh film in the Star Wars saga is already the fifth highest grossing film in North America of all time, and coupled with its $546 million grosses internationally, it has earned $1.09 billion worldwide at breakneck speed.
Adjusting for domestic ticket price inflation, in just 10 days The Force Awakens has already exceeded the grosses for the Star Wars prequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
And in raw box office grosses, globally, The Force Awakens has bested all of the Star Wars prequels.
(In raw numbers, The Force Awakens has also bested the original Star Wars trilogy worldwide, but global box office comparisons become difficult to assess fairly since international ticket price inflation is nearly impossible to measure.)
For the second weekend in a row, The Force Awakens has also boosted overall domestic box office receipts to a near all-time record, with films as disparate as the broad Will Ferrell–Mark Wahlberg comedy Daddy's Home, the Jennifer Lawrence dramedy Joy, and the Leonardo DiCaprio survivalist drama The Revenant reaping the benefits. The multiplex has not seen this much diverse action since the Christmas holiday weekend in 2009, when Avatar led a broad coalition of features appealing to just about every possible moviegoing demographic imaginable.
Avatar, of course, ultimately grossed $760.5 million at the domestic box office (including a "special edition" re-release), an all-time high record that The Force Awakens is just $216 million away from surpassing — again, after just 10 days in theaters.
The speed and magnitude of The Force Awakens' grosses are without precedent at the modern box office, even when comparing them to the inflation-adjusted grosses of the top three films at the domestic box office of all time.
So how much money could The Force Awakens end up making? That largely depends on how long the film can sustain audience interest as it plays through the winter months of 2016.
And looking at the long-term grosses Avatar, Titanic, and Jurassic World could provide a forecast of possible outcomes for The Force Awakens' box office trajectory.
Jurassic World absolutely exploded at the box office when it opened last June, but after its first two weeks in theaters, competition from other massive summer movies like Inside Out, Minions, Ant-Man, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation helped to drain away repeat business over the long term.
Avatar and Titanic, however, both opened on the same December weekend as The Force Awakens, and both films greatly benefitted from three crucial factors: "I guess I'll see what all the fuss is about" curiosity among people who rarely if ever go to the movies, an insatiable appetite among audiences to see the movies multiple times in the theater, and a dearth of major competition in the quiet early months of the year. The result was a steady stream of box office returns that stretched well into the spring months and beyond — and in Titanic's case, kept the film at the top of the box office charts through March.
Those first two factors — curiosity and repeat business — almost assuredly benefit The Force Awakens' long-term box office prospects. But the last factor — a lack of box office competition — is much less certain. Since Avatar's release, Hollywood studios have come to see January, February, and March not as dumping grounds for lackluster features, but as prime opportunities to open a movie to traditionally summer season box office returns (see: American Sniper, Fifty Shades of Grey, The LEGO Movie, The Hunger Games, Alice in Wonderland, and Oz the Great and Powerful). This January alone, Michael Bay's fact-based military thriller 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, the Kevin Hart–Ice Cube comedy Ride Along 2, and the DreamWorks Animation feature Kung Fu Panda 3 all threaten to snag business that might have otherwise turned to The Force Awakens by default.
To get a better picture of how high The Force Awakens' domestic grosses could get, I've used the Avatar, Titanic, and Jurassic World inflation-adjusted box office figures as models to project possible box office futures for the Star Wars juggernaut.
In the highly unlikely event that The Force Awakens peters out like Jurassic World, its domestic grosses could top out somewhere around $790–$800 million — roughly the same amount as Avatar's grosses when adjusting for inflation, and more than enough to become the highest grossing movie in North America of all time.
If The Force Awakens charts a course similar to James Cameron's 2009 sci-fi epic — a far more probable scenario — then it could easily wind up as the first feature film to cross the $1 billion threshold at the North American box office.
And if The Force Awakens becomes an all-consuming cultural event similar to Titanic — a film that spent months dominating music charts and newsstand covers as well as box office returns — then we begin to approach true absurdity, with domestic grosses surpassing $1.4 billion or more.
As for global box office, and whether The Force Awakens can match Avatar's staggering $2.03 billion in international grosses to become the highest grossing film of all time worldwide, it basically comes down to how popular the film will be when it opens in China on Jan. 9.
And in truth, there are far too many variables in the coming months — from weather to the presidential election season to the popularity of NFL playoff games — to make any firm pronouncements about where The Force Awakens' domestic grosses will land. But it is clear that wherever that finish line is, it is in a box office galaxy far, far away.
Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens — $153.5 million
2. Daddy's Home* — $38.8 million
3. Joy* — $17.5 million
4. Sisters — $13.9 million
5. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip — $12.7 million
6. Concussion* — $11 million
7. The Big Short — $10.5 million
8. Point Break — $10.2 million
9. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 — $5.3 million
10. Creed — $4.6 million