Star Wars and the (possible) danger of expectations
The internet is hype. Okay, sure, people got excited before it came along, and Star Wars is undeniably a special case (your kids’ kids’ kids will enjoy new instalments long after The Hunger Games has faded from memory), but in 2015, if you talk about hype, you’re talking about the internet.
And so it is that Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, has had to – at least try and – downplay expectations for Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ opening weekend. This for a film that has already broken every record for advanced ticket sales ($50 million and counting). If that figure fails to impress, you may want to bear in mind the previous record-holder, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, sold a measly $25 million in advanced tickets on its way to a $160 million opening.
Is Christmas still happening? Would anyone notice if it didn’t?
The Force Awakens may well end up overtaking Jurassic World ($208 million) for the biggest opening of all time. It might end up – gasp! – in second. It’s certainly going to gross enough to make the $4 billion cost of acquiring Lucasfilm look like the biggest bargain since, well, Disney acquired Marvel Studios for another thrifty-in-hindsight $4 billion.
Given all this (and certainly every word thus far could be construed as further unwelcome hype), what’s got Alan Horn hot under the collar? What exactly is the problem?
Biggest of all time might not be big enough.
The internet leviathan has been feeding on itself since the first whisper of a new Star Wars film. The hype machine takes every set photo, every half-second of footage, and turns it into a week’s worth of headlines. Is Christmas still happening? Would anyone notice if it didn’t?
The internet has created a set of box office expectations that even The Greatest Cultural Event of Our Lifetimes™ might not be able to match. And Wall Street, that hype-loving-ne’er-do-well, has bought into it hook, line and sinker.
This leaves Disney in a situation where the stock price will likely fall if Star Wars doesn’t break opening weekend records. And if you think the internet takes into account that no December release has ever grossed more than $84 million in a single weekend, well… you haven’t spent long enough on Twitter.
And so it is that Disney feels compelled to try and rein it all in a fraction. They can’t, of course, but try they must. Just don’t be surprised to read about the crushing disappointment felt by some investor or another when Star Wars is ‘only’ gigantic. Don’t be shocked if your favourite blogger thinks it missed expectations. Don’t run for the hills if the stock drops.
Disney will, through sheer determination, find some way to keep the lights on, even if it only opens to $160 million, or only grosses $2 billion in total.
Or, who knows, maybe The Force Awakens will blow past its historical competition by such as margin that any worries will look like the naïve mumbling of the unfaithful. But if that’s not the case, and the foundations of the universe don’t shift sufficiently on 18th December, then remember…
There’s only 880 days ‘til the next Avengers.