Star Wars smashes opening-day record on way to big weekend

 A Star Wars: The Force Awakens advertisement in Times Square in New York.
A Star Wars: The Force Awakens advertisement in Times Square in New York.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Star Wars: The Force Awakens reaped a record-breaking US$57 million (S$80 million) in US and Canadian ticket sales on its opening night, propelled by critical praise and the fervor of fans eager to see the celebrated film franchise’s first installment in a decade.

Force Awakens surpassed the previous opening-day record of US$43.5 million set in 2011 by the final Harry Potter movie.

Fans flocked to cinemas on Thursday evening, many dressed as evil Stormtroopers or lightsaber-wielding Jedi.

Global ticket sales through two days neared US$130 million, Walt Disney said.

The movie opened in 12 international markets on Wednesday.

The new Star Wars film is the seventh installment in the series created by George Lucas in 1977.

Disney bought Star Wars producer Lucasfilm for US$4 billion in 2012 and spent more than US$200 million to produce Force Awakens.

The company’s shares dropped more than 3 per cent, however, after BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield cut his rating on Disney to“sell” from “neutral”.

Greenfield said the success of  Force Awakens would not be enough to offset the impact of subscriber losses at ESPN.

Nomura Securities analyst Anthony DiClemente, who rates Disney a “buy”, said he was more confident after seeing the movie that it could become the top-grossing film of all time.

The record is held by Avatar with US$2.8 billion.

Critics lavished praise on Force Awakens, which features newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac alongside original stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.

The movie scored a 95 per cent positive rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes.  

Disney said 47 per cent of Thursday’s domestic ticket sales came from higher-priced 3D tickets.

International sales reached US$72.7 million through Thursday in 44 markets.

By the end of the weekend, Force Awakens may beat the record set in June by dinosaur movie Jurassic World, which collected US$208.8 million at domestic cinemas over its first three days, according to box office experts.

Strong reviews plus a decades-long affection for the Star Wars franchise are driving interest, said Mr Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at box office tracking firm Rentrak.

Disney’s carefully planned release of film trailers and tidbits of information over several months also boosted ticket sales, he said.

“That worked the audience into a frenzy,” he said. “It’s just a perfect storm of Star Wars enthusiasm."