Newspaper article International New York Times

Hollywood Empire Strikes Back as 'Star Wars' Shatters Records

Newspaper article International New York Times

Hollywood Empire Strikes Back as 'Star Wars' Shatters Records

Article excerpt

In an astounding display of cultural and commercial domination on a global scale, the Disney blockbuster earned roughly $517 million in ticket sales in its opening weekend.

Conventional wisdom holds that mass moviegoing is the pastime of another era. The cultural heat emanates from television now. Hollywood only churns out banal sequels and forgettable action films. Netflix is the new multiplex.

Well, the movies just struck back.

In an astounding display of cultural and commercial domination on a global scale -- one with little precedent in the history of Hollywood -- the Walt Disney Company's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" earned roughly $517 million in worldwide ticket sales, smashing multiple box-office records, even after accounting for inflation.

It was the largest opening weekend in North America, with $238 million in ticket sales. To put that figure into perspective, consider that "Avatar" (2009), which analysts consider to be the highest-grossing film in history, with $3.1 billion in global ticket sales, took in $85 million over its first three days in domestic release; the previous record-holder for a December opening was "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012) with $87.5 million.

"Star Wars" has long been in a league of its own. But "The Force Awakens" also represents the way that Hollywood hopes to battle back after years of soft domestic ticket sales, piracy and competition from video games and television. Focusing on nostalgic film properties with familiar, often cherished characters, studios are assembling Death Star-sized movies that can capture the public's imagination in ways reminiscent of the earliest years of blockbusterdom, before the hyper-fragmentation of pop culture.

Consumers are just beginning to see this strategy -- "Jurassic World," which took in $208.8 million over its first three days in June, was an early example -- but studios have been engaging in a behind-the-scenes arms race for several years. The results are just now coming to market.

Disney is working on four more "Star Wars"-related movies and plans to restart the "Indiana Jones" series. Three more "Avatar" films are on the way from 20th Century Fox. Universal has a "Jurassic World" sequel planned for 2018 and is working to combine its classic monster properties (Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein) into one huge film series. Warner Bros. will release "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" in March; together with Legendary Pictures, Warner has a King Kong versus Godzilla film in the works.

Hollywood has repeatedly missed the mark with mindless remakes and sequels, but "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which cost an estimated $350 million to make and market, also represents an effort to improve the quality of mass-audience films. Lucasfilm, the Disney unit that controls the "Star Wars" franchise, hired an experienced director, J.J. Abrams, who veered sharply back toward old-fashioned filmmaking, relying less on computer-generated imagery and more on constructed sets.

Reviews for "The Force Awakens" were 95 percent positive, according to the Rotten Tomatoes website, which aggregates critical response. "The Force Awakens," the seventh "Star Wars" movie, focuses on a young woman, Rey, as she becomes entwined with efforts - - led by General Leia, no longer a princess -- to locate a vanished Luke Skywalker and generally save the galaxy from evil combatants called the First Order.

"The studios finally seem to be remembering, after years of over- reliance on visual effects, that moviegoers like a story," Jeanine Basinger, a film studies professor at Wesleyan University and the author of books including "The Star Machine," said on Sunday. …

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