So the date of the biggest movie premier in quite some time looms on the near horizon. This has been highly anticipated but there is also a bit a fan-boy concern. The first three installments of the Star Wars saga are cinematic treasures. When measured in inflation equated dollars the first Star Wars movie is second only to Gone with the Wind in box office success. Yes it was bigger than Titanic (#5) and The Avengers (#27). My personal favorite, The Empire Strikes Back is ranked 12th all time and the Return of the Jedi is 15th. Even the much maligned Phantom Menace was a box office success of historic proportions, ranking #17 all time when corrected for inflation.
Inflation corrected numbers are the only fair way to measure box office success, my friends. Seriously if not, then the famously under-performing, Waterworld was a bigger success than Gone with the Wind and we all know that is simply not true 🙂
The bar is set pretty high for Disney and Director, J.J. Abrams. There is the clear and present need for Disney to be successful with the Star Wars franchise. They paid $4 billion for LucasFilms which owned the rights to the Star Wars franchise. Even for Disney $4 billion is a big nugget. For J.J. Abrams there will be the fandom response. J.J. is acutely aware of how that can go south as he endured a great deal of criticism from the hard-core Trekkies regarding his efforts in the reboot of the Star Trek franchise. The 2009 Star Trek was a fantastic movie and Trek needed a boost to the audience since the Trekkie culture wasn’t enough to make a blockbuster film. Star Trek (2009) was excellent in every measurable way despite the Trekkie revolt against the whole premise. The follow-up, Into Darkness was weak sauce but still did well at the box office none-the-less.
There can be no such mediocrity with Star Wars. J.J. Abrams was able to bring new viewers to the Star Trek franchise. But Star Wars doesn’t need new viewers. Star Wars has an enormous worldwide following and 6 films that have generated nearly $5 billion in inflation adjusted box office bucks. That is an average of about $800 million a movie.
Star Trek movies have never had the box office success that Star Wars movies have had. The most successful trek film adjusted for inflation was Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home which fails to make the top 200 all time. No shame in not making the top 200 since tens of thousands of movies have been made over more than 100 years of studio production. Star Trek IV would rank in the top 250. J.J.s Star Trek is the second best box office story for Trek. Every Star Wars film however is in the top 100. Four of them are in the top 20 ALL TIME. Mr. Abrams has got to be sweating bullets. Seriously, if this film fails to crack a half-billion dollars worldwide it will be deemed a failure. That is about double what the very successful, Star Trek (2009) was able to net.
Looking at the Star Wars ‘prequels’ The Phantom Menace was the first and as such was highly anticipated. It generated almost as much inflation adjusted receipts as Return of the Jedi with a take of over 750 million dollars. The two follow ups failed to reach the half billion mark and were the under achievers in the Star Wars universe. This may have been because the viewers had an anticlimactic experience with Phantom, whereby the hype and expectations exceeded the film’s ability to deliver. Honestly, with he exception of a little too much Jar Jar Binks, the Phantom was a good flick.
Do you realize what kind of pressure is created when the fail line is number 50 all time? Most movies are considered wildly successful if they bring in $250 million. Star Wars is a consummate failure at $500 million. Ouch; J.J. is going to age like an American president stressing on this. But he does have a golden opportunity to have a career day with Episode VII. The content, the characters and the audience are already there. This is Disney’s movie to either ruin or revel in triumph.
We have all seen the trailers and I believe the movie will crush the box office, but will it be good enough to bring the audiences back in force for the follow-up episode VIII? I for one, certainly hope so.