LOS ANGELES - "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" hurtled toward $120 million at the U.S. and Canadian box office on Friday and a potential record-breaking $215 million through Sunday, giving the long-awaited movie a shot at the biggest opening weekend of all time.
The ticket sales figures from Walt Disney Co late Friday indicated that the film could eclipse the $208.8 million record set by dinosaur adventure film "Jurassic World" in June. Disney said movie theaters were continuing to add screenings to meet "unprecedented demand."
Fans flocked to theaters Thursday evening, many dressed as evil Stormtroopers or lightsaber-wielding Jedi as the movie took in $57 million at domestic theaters. That surpassed the previous opening-day record of $43.5 million for the final "Harry Potter" movie in 2011.
Interest extended to international markets, where the movie brought in $72.7 million in 44 countries.
At the White House, a beeping R2-D2 and two Stormtroopers surprised reporters with a quick appearance in the briefing room. First lady Michelle Obama hosted a screening for children of families that lost members to war.
The new "Star Wars" film is the seventh installment in the series created by George Lucas in 1977. Disney bought "Star Wars" producer Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012 and spent more than $200 million to produce "Force Awakens."
The company's shares dropped 3.8 percent on Friday, however, after BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield cut his rating on Disney to "sell" from "neutral." Greenfield said the success of "Force Awakens" would not offset the impact of subscriber losses at ESPN.
Nomura Securities analyst Anthony DiClemente, who rates Disney a "buy," said he was more confident after seeing the movie that it could become the top-grossing film of all time. The record is held by "Avatar" with $2.8 billion.
Critics lavished praise on "Force Awakens," which features newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac alongside original stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. The movie scored a 95 percent positive rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes.
Disney said 47 percent of Thursday's domestic ticket sales came from higher-priced 3D tickets.
Strong reviews plus a decades-long affection for the "Star Wars" franchise are driving interest, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at box office tracking firm Rentrak. Disney's carefully planned release of film trailers and tidbits of information over several months also boosted ticket sales, he said.
"That worked the audience into a frenzy," he said. "It's just a perfect storm of Star Wars enthusiasm."
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken, James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)
Obviously not. But "Star Wars" has become a universe of its own.
When the first movie of the saga came out in 1977, one thing was already clear: Something big was born. The film was celebrated by millions of fans worldwide - and praised by critics as well. It received seven Oscars, even if they were "only" in the categories Visual Effects, Editing, Sound, Music, Artistic Direction and Costume Design. Never before were such fast-paced intergalactic battles to be seen: George Lucas had revolutionized special effects filmmaking.
These effects were accompanied by a story which could be universally understood. The battle between good and evil was not only fought with weapons, but on a spiritual level as well. The religion in "Star Wars" is The Force, a kind of energy that holds the universe together. There are two sides to it, a dark and a light kind, just like there is a yin and a yang, and heaven and hell. Both need to balance each other, otherwise the world would come to an end.
This simple story was made attractive through the outlandish landscapes created for the film, the battle scenes, the special effects, the mighty weapons, and the fantastic aliens with very human behavior. George Lucas created a fascinating world. So fascinating that children und teenagers around the world integrated this universe in their daily lives - and the merchandising obviously helped.
'Much to learn, you still have' - Yoda
Children all over the world have built Lego starships and combat weapons. They've fought with anything vaguely resembling a lightsaber, emitting their own interpretation of the world famous sound effects, "Pssshhew! Vrummm! Zhwooo, Zhwooo…"
People started by using Jedi master Yoda's strange sentence structure. Almost everyone has heard or used Darth Vader's most famous quote: "I am your father." And - this is not a joke - I know someone who has actually named his son Robin Anakin (Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader's original name).
In the nearly four decades since the beginning of the saga, the initial fans grew up and are now in their mid-fifties. The "Star Wars" fascination now spans multiple generations. We adults have not lost ours and are happy to share it with our children. We share a common cultural code which now allows us to comment on our child's bad grades by saying, "Much to learn, you still have, my young Padawan."
There is an incredibly strong "Star Wars" fan culture. This also applies to other fantasy worlds such as those in "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings" and the series "Games of Thrones." To celebrate the 20th anniversary of DW's website, a page (in German) celebrating the series was developed - and a few years back, another one was created in Klingon, the "Star Trek" language. The then Director-General of Deutsche Welle Erik Bettermann (definitely an adult man) justified this by declaring: "The dialogue between cultures does not end at the edge of our solar system."
No wonder then that even serious journalists also fall into combat mode when they put their hands on a lightsaber ("Pssshhew! Vrummm! Zhwooo, Zhwooo…") or gloriously take part in Chewbacca growling contests ("Groawwwwr!").
Yes, I am proud of my Chewbacca key chain. One can judge the incredible merchandising spectacle and accuse Disney of trying to get back the four billion dollars it paid for George Lucas' franchise as quickly as possible in its Imperial coffers. But "Star Wars" toys - action figures, starships, lightsabers etc. - all existed before Disney bought the rights to the series.
And finally, in an age where the "Islamic State" gets to fill most headlines with bloody terror, we can definitely use a fairy tale movie, where good still prevails over evil.