The Force has found its way into the record books. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” earned a record-setting $238 million in North America, according to the Walt Disney Co., the highest opening weekend total in history. "The Force Awakens" surpassed “Jurassic World's” $207 million total, which roared past “The Avengers” this spring to claim the top spot. It managed to leapfrog those other two films despite showing on fewer screens. “The Force Awakens” ran at 4,134 screens in North America, compared with 4,274 for “Jurassic World” and 4,349 for “The Avengers.”
Overall, the movie pulled in a whopping $517 million worldwide. It debuted in 22 other markets, breaking records in 18 of them. That total does not include receipts from China, the world’s second-largest movie market, and China's absence is a major reason why global box office receipts for "The Force Awakens" failed to top those of “Jurassic World.” The dinosaur action extravaganza pulled in $548 million back in June, but Chinese audiences also got to see it two days early; it opened in China June 10, and in the U.S. on June 12. During that opening weekend, "Jurassic World" earned some $99 million at the Chinese box office. "The Force Awakens" opens in China on Jan. 9.
Whether the massive opening weekend, combined with favorable reviews and a tidal wave of synergy, sets "The Force Awakens" on a path to all-time box-office greatness remains to be seen. It will have to sustain interest for a while if it hopes to catch “Avatar,” which earned more than $2.7 billion worldwide in theaters, or even “Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope,” the first “Star Wars” film, which earned $460 million domestically when it came out in 1977; that’s equivalent to $1.36 billion in today’s dollars.
Reaching those heights would go a long way toward assuring investors that the Walt Disney Co.’s $4 billion investment in “Star Wars” was worthwhile. Analysts including BTIG Research’s Rich Greenfield say “The Force Awakens” needs to earn at least $2 billion worldwide for Disney to hit its 2016 earnings-per-share estimates, and even if it does, that may not be enough to keep Disney's stock price up next year. Despite the film's record-breaking performance at the U.S. box office on its opening night, Disney shares slipped 4 percent Friday, owing mostly to concerns about ESPN.