December 18, 2015 / 5:13 PM / in 2 years

'Star Wars' sales surge toward opening weekend record

Moviegoers wait before the first showing of the movie "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the entrance of a movie theatre in Tokyo, Japan, December 18, 2015.Issei Kato

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" hurtled into record books on Friday with U.S. and Canadian ticket sales speeding toward $100 million, giving the long-awaited movie a shot at the biggest opening weekend of all time.

Walt Disney Co said the movie appeared headed toward a weekend domestic total of more than $200 million with the possibility of eclipsing the $208.8 million record set by dinosaur film "Jurassic World" in June.

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."

Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and James Dalgleish

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