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At the box office for ‘Star Wars,’ the force weakens

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is fading fast at the box office. Some think the Walt Disney studio somewhat limited its box office haul by playing it safe with the story line.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is fading fast at the box office. Some think the Walt Disney studio somewhat limited its box office haul by playing it safe with the story line.

It appears the force is no longer strong at the box office.

As it approaches the end of its remarkable run in theaters, ticket sales for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” are fading fast. If past blockbuster patterns are any guide, the film will fall well short of the all-time box office leaders, including “Titanic” and “Avatar.”

Once inflation is factored in, it probably won't top the seminal “Star Wars” film from 1977 either.

Here's how the math breaks down. The No. 1 movie in each of the past 20 years made 93 percent of its box office revenue, on average, in its first nine weeks in theaters, according to IMDb’s Box Office Mojo. In other words, the latest Star Wars journey just about concluded last weekend.

To date, the film has garnered $916 million in U.S. theaters and a total of $2.03 billion globally. Play the equation out and “The Force Awakens” projects to top out at about $2.2 billion.

In January, the numbers suggested that the film could top the $2.8 billion global haul of “Avatar.”

“I think that (Walt Disney Co.) thought — especially overseas — it would really carry, but it just didn't pan out," said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations.

Bock believes the studio somewhat limited its box office haul by playing it safe with the story line.

“It was almost an homage to the original trilogy, and that isn't pushing any envelopes with new fans,” he said.

There is a chance the film can buck the expected swoon. Hollywood’s best offerings, the all-time cinema all-stars, tend to have a little more staying power. After nine weeks, “Titanic” had collected only about two-thirds of its eventual box office revenue. During this window, “Avatar” won just 88 percent of its haul.

But “The Force Awakens” is already fading badly at the box office. China’s moviegoers starting tuning out after the first weekend. At this point, China is pretty much over it.

Increased competition is a huge factor — there are simply more movies for people to choose among these days. Last year, Hollywood sent almost 700 films into theaters, one-third more than it did in 2009, when “Avatar” appeared. In the past two decades, the film industry’s output has increased 69 percent.

“The Force Awakens” has lost business to “Deadpool,” an unexpected blockbuster, along with “Kung Fu Panda 3” and “The Revenant.”

A further issue, according to Bock, is that the film didn't showcase any breakout technology. In 1997, “Titanic” was a milestone for computer-generated imagery and “Avatar” introduced vanguard 3-D viewing, both big draws globally.

“Those films each offered things you've never seen before on screen,” he said. “‘Star Wars’ wasn't offering that. It was like going to Disneyland again.”

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