December 19, 2015 / 2:15 AM / 2 years ago

'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 toward $125 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales on Friday and a potential record-breaking $225 million through Sunday, giving the long-awaited movie a shot at the biggest opening weekend of all time.

The projections from Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) late Friday indicated the film could eclipse the $208.8 million record set by dinosaur adventure film "Jurassic World" in June. Disney said theaters were adding showtimes to meet "unprecedented demand."

Fans eager to see the first "Star Wars" movie in a decade came dressed as Stormtroopers or Jedi. Ticket sales Thursday night and Friday surpassed previous records set by the final "Harry Potter" film in 2011.

The movie has opened in 44 countries outside North America, earning $72.7 million in total through Thursday.

At the White House, 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.

Audiences awarded an "A" rating in polling by survey firm CinemaScore, Disney said.

The 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 information over several months also boosted 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, Lisa Shumaker and Susan Fenton

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