Los Angeles — To say that the force is strong with this one is an understatement.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought in a galactic $238m over the weekend, making it the biggest North American debut of all time according to studio estimates on Sunday.
The Walt Disney Co. earnings destroy the previous opening record set by Universal's Jurassic World, which drew $208.8m this summer.
Internationally, the film brought in $279m, bringing its global gross to $517m — second only to Jurassic World's global bow of $525m. But the dinosaurs had the added benefit of China — Star Wars won't open there until 9 January.
This is just the latest in a laundry list of records set by J.J. Abrams' film, the seventh in the franchise, which had analysts anticipating a debut anywhere from $150m to $300m.
The "X-factor" was quality. While The Force Awakens drew enormous pre-sales, the film was kept under lockdown from the press and critics until mere days before it was released to the public. Reviews turned out to be stellar (95% on Rotten Tomatoes), as did early audience reaction, who gave the film an A CinemaScore.
Rentrak's Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian said that's the key element that may push the film to the $2bn mark by the end of its run. Many are already going back for a second helping.
"The enthusiasm has really turned into a cultural event," said Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice president of theatrical distribution. "It's unbelievable."
"It feels historic. The marketing team has embarked on a two-plus year journey to create this event feel," Hollis added. "It's hard to think you could replicate this, but never say never."
Males overwhelmingly drove the astronomical earnings, comprising 58% of the audience.
"Many of the bigger films of the past few years have been driven by that often marginalised female audience," Dergarabedian said. "This proves that if you put the right film in the marketplace, the guys will show up in big numbers. You can still break records with one gender being the dominant one."
He predicted that over time, Daisy Ridley's protagonist may help even the gender breakdown. Hollis agreed, noting that the breakdown evened out across the weekend too. Friday audiences were 63% male, he said.
The film also drew mainly adults, who made up 71% of the audience. Teens accounted for only 9%, but those numbers may go up in the coming weeks as holiday vacations kick in.
IMAX, 3D and other premium large format screens further helped drive the massive earnings. Nearly half of moviegoers — 47% —chose to see the film on the generally pricier screens. IMAX screens alone accounted for $48 million of the global earnings.
But Star Wars didn't fly alone this weekend. A few other movies attempted to provide some counterprogramming and ended up with comparatively decent results.
The other movies at the box office
Almost a galaxy away, Fox's animated Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip came in second with $14.4m.
In third place, the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Sisters earned an estimated $13.4m out of the gates. A whopping 79% of audiences were female for the R-rated comedy — a solid indicator that the counterprogramming against Star Wars was in fact a wise choice.
"A healthy box office needs something for everyone," said Nick Carpou, Universal's president of domestic distribution, who expects a solid performance for the comedy in the weeks to come.
Rounding out the top five were The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2, with $5.7m and Creed, with $5.1m.
This is the biggest overall weekend in box office history with combined grosses north of $300m, putting 2015 in range of becoming the first $11bn year in history.
"We're on the verge of a record-breaking year," Dergarabedian said. "I think we're going to do it."