How much did ‘The Force Awakens’ REALLY make?


Image copyright Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Company

The record-breaking theatrical run of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens is finally coming to an end, as the film will be released on DVD, Blu-ray and other platforms next month.

By now, we all know that the movie broke Avatar’s domestic record of $761 million. In fact, as I predicted, it crushed that number and now sits at $931 million. Although my prediction that it would top $1 billion domestically was a bit off – and I still owe friends drinks for losing bets – it’s come very close and would have gotten even closer had Disney chosen to delay the DVD/Blu-ray offering, re-release the film on IMAX screens and do a final promotional push. (That still might happen, but time is running out.)

The movie’s numbers seem mighty, but a closer look reveals a slightly different story. When adjusted to inflation, the gross of The Force Awakens doesn’t even crack the top 10 domestically, according to The film currently sits at #11, right behind the adjusted gross of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ($948 million). And it’s light years behind the original Star Wars ($1.55 billion) and galaxies away from the #1 film, Gone with the Wind ($1.76 billion).

The international box office reveals even more surprises. Globally, The Force Awakens has taken in $2.06 billion, which is good enough for third place, behind both Avatar ($2.79 billion) and Titanic ($2.19 billion). And that’s straight money, folks, which means The Force Awakens is behind two movies that generated most of their income from 2009 and 1997 dollars, respectively. Not to take anything away from the success of the recent Star Wars, which is phenomenal, but these numbers prove that the franchise just doesn’t connect to international audiences the way it does to Americans.

Predictably, The Force Awakens falls farther down the list when one considers adjusted-to-inflation international numbers. Although no one agrees exactly on those numbers, thanks to unreliable collection methods over the years, Wikipedia and other sources have done a pretty good job at estimating them. Using Wikipedia’s numbers, The Force Awakens is at #9, right after Doctor Zhivago but slightly ahead of Jaws (the original summer blockbuster). Gone with the Wind tops that list too, with $3.44 billion, followed by Avatar and the original Star Wars.

But The Force Awakens’ failure to climb higher on adjusted-to-inflation lists isn’t entirely its own fault. It’s a prisoner of today’s entertainment culture, which essentially limits theatrical runs to just a few months. Gone with the Wind and the original Star Wars, on the other hand, benefitted from multiple releases over many years. (And I won’t even begin to discuss the effects of the Internet and TV on theatrical attendance.)

Still, don’t feel too sorry for The Force Awakens, as it had the benefit of social media and other promotional methods that films from the 1930s and 1970s could only have dreamed of. In addition, the population of the United States ($319 million) is more than double what it was in 1939 (131 million), and the potential global movie audience has arguably quadrupled since Gone with the Wind was released in 1939 and doubled since the first Star Wars came out in 1977. So maybe the deck isn’t really stacked against today’s films after all. Perhaps Gone with the Wind’s record will topple one day. But The Force Awakens won’t be the film to surpass it. The force was strong with this one, but the Wind blew more strongly.

Copyright 2016 © Cameron Meier

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