When the Star Wars saga began in 1977, George Lucas had already gained some reputation with 1973’s American Graffiti. But even then, getting a movie of such massive scale and grandeur like Star Wars, which really had no precedent, was never going to be easy. Lucas had to struggle to get a studio to finance it; he had difficulty in getting people to see and appreciate his vision. In many aspects, Star Wars was way ahead of its time. But things did click into place, and Star Wars released on May 25, 1977, in 30-odd theatres. History was then rewritten. The craze for the movie that followed was something that neither George Lucas nor the studio 20th Century Fox had predicted. Do keep in mind that those were different times when the opening weekend did not make or break a movie. Movies ran for longer periods, got many re-releases if they were really popular, and the earnings thus scaled over the years. Star Wars began its first weekend with $1.5 million earnings at the box-office, which would then go on to reach a massive and unheard tally of $323 million in North America alone, after multiple re-releases, a record that would be broken by Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial in 1983. A Special Edition of Star Wars was re-released in 1997, which allowed the movie to cross $400 million in North America, and become once again the all-time highest grossing movie, eclipsed later on by James Cameron’s Titanic. In all, the first Star Wars film earned $775 million worldwide, which ain’t bad for a movie that had a production budget of $11 million! Even now, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, as it was later called, ranks as the seventh biggest film of all-time on the box-office charts of North America (not adjusting for inflation), soon to become eighth though as the latest movie of the franchise is not far away from moving up.
By the time Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back hit the theatres in May 1980, the franchise was no longer an unknown entity. The movie had a limited release to begin with, earning $10.8 million, which would soon expand to $209 million, making it the biggest movie of 1980 in North America. With Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, the saga came to an end, once more with lot of glory at the box-office. The movie has earned more than $300 million in North America, including the re-releases, a feat that remarkably has been achieved by only nine movies in the 20th Century which includes three Star Wars films (Episode I, IV & VI).
Note: Figures are in USD million
When George Lucas brought back the saga to a newer generation through the prequel trilogy, the anticipation was sky-high, as one would have expected. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace released in May 1999, sixteen years since Return of the Jedi, and it opened with about $65 million earnings in North America. Even though critics and even some fans never warmed up to the prequel trilogy, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace kept minting money, eventually earning more than the domestic earnings of A New Hope (things would be very different if we adjust for inflation). That made The Phantom Menace the highest grossing movie of the Star Wars franchise, both domestically and globally, and the only one of the first six films to earn more than a billion dollars worldwide.
The mixed reviews for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace might have dampened things a bit for the sequel, but a Star Wars movie is always an occasion that one shouldn’t miss. So Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones was another terrific success, earning more than $300 million each in North America and overseas, though it was less of a phenomenon when you compare it with some other terrific releases of the year: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man which would mark the beginning of a mind-blowing trilogy; the movie adaptation of the second book in J.K. Rowling’s series titled Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; and the second movie of another epic adventure which has become as deeply ingrained in pop culture as Star Wars, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Attack of the Clones was a bit adrift of these movies in terms of global box-office earnings. The final movie of the prequel trilogy Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith however received much better reviews, and being the finale, more attention as well. It was the only movie of 2005 to earn more than $300 million in North America, miles ahead of the other movies in terms of box-office collections, but globally it fell marginally short of the earnings of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Nonetheless, the box-office power of the Star Wars series was proven once again, and it seemed to be a terrific way to end things.
Note: Figures are in USD million
Until… Disney decided it could do more. It bought Lucasfilm, got J.J. Abrams, and created Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. With its heavy promotions, and of course a great movie, the latest Star Wars flick has done what 1977’s Star Wars movie is famous for accomplishing. Breaking records! Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens earned $248 million in North America in its opening weekend, a feat that seems so difficult to be broken by anyone in the near future other than another Star Wars movie. It also accomplished the biggest global opening, and is now on path to become the fastest earner of a billion dollars worldwide. To what heights will this movie reach is something everyone is learning and processing with each passing day. So be it any decade since the first movie’s release in the 1970s, Star Wars saga has left a massive mark on the box-office and an everlasting impression on the audience. The Force is definitely strong with this one!