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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is on pace to become the biggest film of all time

It only needs a little over $200 million to pass up Avatar in the US and Canada. It should get it.

Go, Millennium Falcon!
Go, Millennium Falcon!
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Disney has managed the unthinkable with Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.

Normally, when studios release films during the winter holidays, they're really counting on the two weeks containing Christmas and New Year's Day, when every weekday is like a weekend day — on top of Christmas Day being one of the single biggest moviegoing days of the year.

Consider Avatar, currently the biggest film in box office history. It opened to just over $77 million on December 18, 2009. Not bad, but also nowhere near the biggest opening weekend of all time, even back then. In its second weekend, Avatar grossed just under $76 million, falling around 2 percent. And in its third — beginning with New Year's Day 2010 — the movie fell only another 9 percent, on its way to an eventual overall haul of nearly $750 million in the US and Canada. (It would pull in an additional $10 million in a later re-release.) Between those weekends, the movie was putting up monster weekdays, typically over $15 million.

So over the holidays, films can develop outrageously long legs, which means they don't need huge opening weekends to succeed, the way most summer blockbusters do. What Disney has accomplished with The Force Awakens is to open a movie with a massive, summer-style, best-of-all-time opening weekend of just under $248 million — and then see the film grow tremendous legs as well. Indeed, it fell less than 40 percent in its second weekend (a terrific number for something that started so big).

The Force Awakens been smashing records left and right — including ones you haven't even heard about, like "most money made on a Monday" (a record it set on December 21). But here are the numbers to look out for as it continues its assault on American movie theaters. (All box office data is, as always, from the irreplaceable Box Office Mojo.)

$760.5 million

Avatar is the number one movie of all time for now.
Hey, remember Avatar? You probably saw it. Nearly everybody did.
20th Century Fox

That's Avatar's ultimate domestic total, a number The Force Awakens will likely surpass. At present, The Force Awakens sits at just over $540 million, the fifth biggest movie of all time in the US and Canada. At the rate it's been raking in money, an additional $220 million doesn't seem that tough, but The Force Awakens is racing the calendar to some degree. Once Monday, January 4, rolls around and many people go back to work and kids go back to school, it will lose those hugely profitable weekdays. Plus, its staying power, while impressive, has so far lagged a bit behind Avatar's. (This shouldn't matter, considering the huge head start The Force Awakens has.)

While The Force Awakens should be past Titanicthe second biggest film of all time domestically — by that January 4 cutoff, catching Avatar will take some doing. Still, the safe money is on it doing so somewhere in the month of January.

Meanwhile, Avatar's worldwide total of $2.788 billion seems safer as a record, until you consider that The Force Awakens has yet to open in China, one of the world's biggest moviegoing markets. If The Force Awakens is a hit there, even Avatar's worldwide record might not be safe.

$2 billion

Only two movies have ever crossed this mark at the worldwide box office, and they were both directed by James Cameron — Titanic and Avatar. Heck, those two are in such rarified air that only an additional three films — Jurassic World, The Avengers, and Furious 7 — have crossed the $1.5 billion mark.

As the fastest film in history to hit $1 billion at the worldwide box office (just 12 days!), The Force Awakens should have no trouble becoming the sixth film in the $1.5 billion club. But it also seems likely to have the stamina to make it into the $2 billion club, especially with its China opening still ahead.


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs currently occupies the number 10 spot on the top 10 movies when adjusted for inflation.

That's the number The Force Awakens will have to crest in the US and Canada to crack the all-time top 10 when adjusted for inflation. Oddly enough, the movie The Force Awakens will kick out of the top 10 if it manages this feat is Disney crown jewel Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (When adjusting for inflation, only domestic box office is considered, usually. There are several reasons for this, but the most prominent ones are that calculating box office figures in many countries introduces too much data — much of which we don't have reliable sources for — and that the international box office has only really come into its own as a moneymaking force in the last 10 years.)

It's incredibly hard for a movie to crack the top 10 of all time when adjusted for inflation. The youngest movie on the list is 1997's Titanic, which sits at 5th with $1.1 billion. For the most part, the others are long established classics, like Gone with the Wind and the original Star Wars. Even Avatar, the all-time unadjusted champion, is only 14th.

Making over $900 million would require The Force Awakens to play extremely well into February and March. That's not impossible, but in 2016, there are a surprising number of big-ticket movies arriving in the usually dull first quarter of the year, including Kung Fu Panda 3 and YA novel adaptation The Fifth Wave in January. To make it to $900 million, The Force Awakens will need to keep playing in a high number of theatres, and as more movies enter the marketplace, that will be harder and harder to pull off.


The Force Awakens is already the biggest Star Wars movie of all time when not adjusted for inflation. (Its closest competitor, The Phantom Menace, sits at $474.5 million.) But it's in fifth place when adjusted for inflation, ahead of only Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones.

The next movie for The Force Awakens to pass will be Phantom Menace, which sits at the number above — $753,202,700 — when adjusted for inflation. (Just like The Force Awakens, that movie released pent-up demand for a new Star Wars story, even if fans have mostly come to dislike it.) If The Force Awakens surpasses Avatar as I suspect it will — it will also pass all three of the prequels when adjusted for inflation.

Beating the original trilogy will prove tougher. Return of the Jedi sits at $784 million, which is theoretically doable, while The Empire Strikes Back is at just under $819 million, which will be tougher. Suffice to say if The Force Awakens surpasses Star Wars' adjusted total of $1.485 billion, it will have had the kind of box office run movies just don't have any more.

$313,279,350 / $295,921,693

Jennifer Lawrence stars in Joy.
Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence, is just one of the movies that still did great business in Star Wars' shadow.
20th Century Fox

Those are the total hauls for all movies at the domestic box office in the first two weekends The Force Awakens was in theaters. Compare those to the weekend before The Force Awakens came out, where all movies in total only grossed $77,432,429.

And movies of all shapes and sizes are doing well. The Hateful Eight is selling out its limited engagement. Joy overcame lousy reviews for a $17 million opening, while The Big Short went semi-wide (in more theaters than a limited release, but still not as many as, say, The Force Awakens) to the tune of $10.5 million. These are not easily sellable movies, yet they're all doing great business.

And no genre is doing better than comedy. The latest Will Ferrell movie, Daddy's Home, managed one of the biggest live-action Christmas weekend openings ever, with just under $39 million, while the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler movie Sisters has scored over $37 million after debuting the same day as The Force Awakens. Those numbers are nowhere near Star Wars numbers, but they'll all lead to immense profits for their studios. Sometimes, when one movie is so huge, it stomps all over everything else in the marketplace. But The Force Awakens has managed to raise all boats.

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