Star Wars: The Force Awakens blasts off

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Stars mobbed Hollywood Boulevard Monday afternoon in Los Angeles to attend the world premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in what director J.J. Abrams dryly called “incredibly low key.” Some took advantage of the occasion to ditch their standard snazzy suits or dresses worn for premieres to attend in more suitable garb, such as A-lister Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in a full on do-it-yourself Yoda costume complete with green face paint and Yoda’s signature ears.

Disney (NYSE: DIS, initial buy $48.60) spared no expense for the premiere and it certainly looks as though it was a bash suitable for the occasion, with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck reportedly catering for 3,500 guests. The big invitee list meant that the premiere overflowed from the Dolby theatre to the adjacent TCL Chinese and El Capitan theatres as well and even the big stars had to give up their smartphones prior to watching the film.

The TCL Chinese Theatre, formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was where the original Star Wars premiered back in 1977. It made WIRED’s cut as one of the seven best cinemas in the United States to catch The Force Awakens, alongside a range of monster IMAX cinemas stateside.

Fortunately those who attended have adhered to Disney’s request to abstain from spoiler alerts on social media, but have otherwise expressed their enthusiasm for the movie in general terms. Here is Rob Lowe on the red carpet with John Boyega, a major star in Episode VII, saying: “There’s a new hero in town, in a movie that DELIVERS. Cried like a baby, whooped like a teen!”

 

Others tweeted similarly positive spoiler free comments. For the rest of the world, there is not much longer to wait, with the movie launching in France, Italy and nine other countries Wednesday (overnight our time) and hitting British cinemas and 17 other territories Thursday and all other major markets including the US from Friday and over the weekend with one major exception – mainland China, where the movie opens early January.

It is safe to assume that many millions will be flocking to a cinema nearby over the festive season to catch a viewing themselves. As regular readers will know, we believe the Star Wars franchise will underpin Disney’s Studio Entertainment’s success over the next decade alongside the already tremendously successful Marvel, Pixar and home-grown Disney studios that have bought us a raft of wonderful movies over the years.

The Star Wars halo effect will also benefit other Disney revenue streams, such as merchandising, theme parks and the TV networks.

We could see some volatility over the next week or so in the share price though due to mammoth expectations for Episode VII becoming the biggest movie opening ever. It is going to be huge, there is no doubt about that, but we are more interested in how the movie fares over its first run in cinemas. That is where we think The Force Awakens can really impress, as it is almost certain to be a movie that will attract viewers long after the first weekend.

This long viewing tail is what separates the biggest box office movies such as Avatar and Titanic from others that are still big box office successes, but end up making less than US$1 billion in worldwide takings. Expectations may be high, but strong advance sales and the tremendous merchandise sales point to the groundswell of interest. The movie is sure to appeal across generations as die-hard fans introduce their kids to the space opera for the first time.

We believe the movie has the potential to garner $2 billion or above in box office takings, with a “blue sky” estimate closer to the $3 billion mark. This would surpass Avatar’s $2.7 billion total (in 2009) supported by modest inflation and IMAX and the like sales.

Toy merchandise is going to get a big bump from the $2 billion or so in Star Wars sales in a standard year and we see this more than doubling to a $5 billion or more total for the 12 month period. Video game sales of Disney Infinity and Battlefront could surpass $1.5 billion over that period and TV licensing and DVD and digital sales from home entertainment (including sales of prior movies) about $1 billion. Combined we expect Star Wars revenue to amount to $9.0 to $11 billion over a twelve month period, making it a Force to be reckoned with…

Looking forward to seeing the movie. “We too are”.

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