Instant Analysis: Walt Disney Co. Shatters Box Office Record With "Star Wars" Preview

Despite a massive debut, the latest in the movie franchise may not be enough to lift the studio's long-term outlook.

Rich Duprey
Rich Duprey
Dec 18, 2015 at 5:49PM
Consumer Goods

What happened?
The seventh installment in the Star Wars saga broke all previous records for a movie preview showing, pulling in $57 million Thursday night and setting Disney (NYSE:DIS) up to crush the opening weekend record set by Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Pictures Jurassic World, which posted a $208.8 million box office grab in June.

Does it matter?
The previous preview night winner was set by 2011's Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 from Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX.DL) Warner Brother Studios when it raked in $43.5 million, but in the scheme of things, the sure-to-be-blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens won't be enough to overcome some of the hurdles Disney still has to get over with the rest of its operations.

Among the problems an analyst at BTIG Research faults management over are overpaying for rights to sports programming, saying Disney acquired too many rights in an attempt to stop rivals from getting them. Moreover, by being too aggressive in licensing content to subscription-based video on demand services like Netflix, it has "damaged their and the cable network industry's long-term prospects."

The analyst goes on to suggest that, while Star Wars ought to help it exceed expectations in fiscal 2016, the outlook beyond that is not as bright.

But Disney can still bask in the warmth the latest Star Wars episode is generating. The first movie from the franchise in over 10 years, it began rolling out internationally on Wednesday, and had brought in a total of $72.7 million in those markets over two days. As a result, global ticket sales for the two-day opening have hit almost $130 million. Deadline Hollywood estimates that puts it on track to earn between $215 million and $220 million.

Look for ancillary benefits to accrue from toy sales and product tie-ins, but it may not have enough strength to force any meaningful change long term.