4TH UPDATE WRITETHRU, FRIDAY 2 PM: Distribution executives are in complete awe and just can’t believe what they’re witnessing hour by hour. After shattering the box office industry’s preview-night record with $57 million on Thursday, Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set to knock over opening-day and weekend records left and right. You can scratch out that $110M opening day we heard about earlier. Force Awakens Friday — which includes that $57M it made in Thursday previews — is between $130M-$145M per industry estimates (not Disney). This puts Force Awakens in an opening-weekend range of $250M-$275M; a gross that sends Universal’s Jurassic World current opening-weekend record of $208.8M back to the Stone Age.
As we saw with Universal during the opening weekend of Jurassic World, Disney is being very conservative with estimates. At this point, they see a $100M+ Friday and a $200M+ weekend. Saturday is a wild card day and will determine if Force Awakens gets to this stratosphere level, specifically because it’s a big holiday travel and shopping day. 80% of the Force Awakens pre-sales were bought for the following days in order: Thursday, Friday and Christmas Day. Hence, many foresee Saturday as the day that could benefit from the most walk-up business, and both Disney and exhibitors such as AMC continue to emphasize there’s millions of tickets available.

With eye-boggling grosses like this, what could possibly come in second this weekend? Many are betting that 20th Century Fox’s Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Road Chip makes an estimated $18M at 3,653 theaters after a Friday that’s between $5.5M-$6M. Universal’s R-rated comedy Sisters with its intent on hooking females, is looking at $6M today for a $17M opening in third place. The film, suffocated by Star Wars, couldn’t bust $1M in previews last night, settling for $769K.

Among holdovers, Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 will have the benefit of slotting fourth with an estimated 45% decline for a fifth weekend of $6.3M and a running cume of $255.1M. Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s In The Heart Of The Sea will be down 55% in its second session with $5.1M and a 10-day cume of $20.2M. As to whether all films in the marketplace will reap from Force Awakens’ rising tide, we’ll have to wait until we get past Christmas Eve when all holiday distractions cease for moviegoers.

Previously, Warner Bros.’ 2011 finale Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 owned the preview record of $43.5M and the opening day of $91M. 47% of Force Awakens’ Thursday night gross came from 3D, with Imax generating $5.7M at 391 hubs; that’s close to double the previous preview night record set by Avengers: Age Of Ultron of $3M.

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How were the preview grosses calculated? Non-Disney sources with access to hourlies tell us that the previews for Force Awakens were weighted from 7 PM until 6 AM on Friday. When Warner Bros. generated $43.5M from Deathly Hallows 2 they counted the grosses from those showtimes between midnight Friday until 6 AM; after 2 AM, there was only a smattering of them. This raises questions as to how Disney will count showtimes for the first day of Force Awakens. Will the opening record be based on a 29-hour day (Thursday 7 PM shows through those ending at 11:59 PM today)? Or a 35-hour day inclusive of those shows ending at 6 AM on Saturday? One analyst noticed that heading into post-6 AM shows today that business for Force Awakens is tracking down 10% from the preview shows.

The No. 1 film outside of previews last night? Lionsgate’s Mockingjay – Part 2 which made $895K from 3,651 locations; its current B.O. is $248.8M. In The Heart Of The Sea was second with an estimated $735K at 3,103 and a first week’s cume of $15.1M. 20th Century Fox was wise not to battle the Force last night with its fourthquel Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Road Chip. 

MovieTickets.com continues to report that 94% of the site’s ticket sales are for Force Awakens — surprise, surprise. A majority of tickets at 42% are being sold in pairs, which means people are attending the film alone. Group tickets of 3 or 4 are being snapped up respectively at 15%. Only 4% of all Force Awakens tickets buyers are purchasing six tickets or more.

Opening Night Of Walt Disney Pictures And Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" At The TCL Chinese TheatreRentrak’s PostTrak unveiled last night the following audience breakdown (which they monitor throughout the weekend): Force Awakens is largely drawing older males at 71% guys, 53% over 25. A majority of the audience at 94% are grading the J.J. Abrams film either excellent or very good, which is a remarkable score rarely seen on PostTrak. Close to half of the audience say they attended Force Awakens because it’s part of a franchise they love. More than half the audience polled say that Force Awakens exceeded their expectations. 72% said they decided more than a week ago that they were going to Force Awakens, while 24% said they decided tonight to buy a ticket to the film.

Also as of last night per PostTrak, a majority of the audience watched Force Awakens in RealD 3D at 44%, followed by 2D at 32% and Imax 3D at 16%.

PREVIOUSLY, 6:52 PM: “It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen,” one exhibition insider told us as Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens is cruising toward an earth-shattering Thursday night preview record tonight. We’re literally hearing from our non-Disney sources that it Fans Line Up To Watch "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" In New York Citycould push to $50M — and some say much higher. That would be phenomenal and better than the record set by Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows-Part 2, which made $43.5M from midnight showings in 2011. From Valencia, CA to New York City, shows are selling out back-to-back. “Every time a show is added, it sells out,” said another exhibitor.

In Manhattan, some theaters are playing Force Awakens 24/7. By 4:50 PM today at Edwards suburban Valencia 12, 30 minutes north of L.A., the first four shows of the night starting at 7 PM were completely sold out, with a throng of folks clustered outside the multiplex since 10AM. At the Landmark Theatre on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, Force Awakens is playing seven times tonight, with most theaters packing in an 80% capacity. We’ve heard of some West Coast theaters playing the film until 4:30 AM. The Hollywood Arclight on Sunset is showing Force Awakens for 24 hours straight.

“I can tell you this: No one has ever seen anything like this,” said one distribution insider. “It’s very possible that it could go over $50M.” The exec also says that if theaters are playing this film all night long, The Force Awakens can get to $100M in one of the fastest times ever.

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Sets Its Sights On A $130M-$145M Friday & $250M-$275M Weekend