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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' grosses whopping $120.5 million for opening day

Standing next to his wife, who was decked out in a R2-D2 hoodie, Chris Barreno, 36, was getting ready Saturday for his second viewing of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the ArcLight Cinemas in El Segundo.

The Long Beach accountant, his wife, Monique Matta, and her extended family were among the legions of fans decked out in their "Star Wars" gear and novelty 3-D glasses for the seventh installment of the film, which has already amassed recording-breaking box-office numbers and further bolstered the newest release of the beloved sci-fi series.

J.J. Abrams' highly anticipated take on George Lucas' franchise collected an estimated $120.5 million in its first day, including $57 million for Thursday night preview shows, making it the highest single day on record, according to Walt Disney Co. The tally topped the previous record holder, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," which grossed $91 million from its Thursday and Friday shows in July 2011. The film has already grossed more than $250 million worldwide.

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"It far exceeded my expectations," said Barreno, a fan of the space saga since he saw "The Empire Strikes Back" when he was 2. He noted that he and his wife were looking to parse out more details they might have missed upon first seeing the new film.

"You go into it cautiously optimistic, hopeful that they make a good movie, and with the new cast and characters they really did a good job. It's one of the better ones ... and it gives you something to look forward to for the next few movies."

The numbers for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" are unprecedented for a film premiering in December. The record holder for the biggest opening during the month is "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which took in $85 million in domestic receipts in 2012.

Audience polling firm CinemaScore gave the new release an A grade, including an A-plus among women and younger audiences. It also earned a 95% fresh rating from RottenTomatoes.

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The space opera, which mixes old veterans with new faces and sees the evil Empire replaced by the even more evil First Order, opened wide domestically on Thursday at 7 p.m., showing in 4,134 theaters, a December record in and of itself.

"The Force Awakens" is expected to gross $180 million to $220 million through Sunday in its domestic opening weekend. However, those numbers began to look like conservative estimates following Thursday and Friday screenings.

At that rate, the long-awaited space epic is poised to out-earn Universal's dino reboot, "Jurassic World," which broke the record for the biggest domestic opening by selling $208.8 million in tickets last June.

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And while many analysts expected the film to collect $1.5 billion to $2 billion globally, "The Force Awakens" is now predicted to gross $2.6 billion worldwide. That would make it the second-highest grossing picture of all time, trailing only 2009's "Avatar," which took in $2.8 billion worldwide.

The film began its international rollout on Wednesday and has grossed an additional $130 million internationally so far, bringing its global cumulative box office to $250 million. That was in part thanks to record-breaking opening-day sales in Britain, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Spain and Japan. It debuted in 12 countries on Wednesday and an additional 32 on Thursday. The movie won't debut in China, the second-largest film market, until Jan. 9

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As expected, "The Force Awakens" dwarfed the weekend's other new releases, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's buddy comedy "Sisters" and the live-action animated sequel "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip," which grossed an estimated $4.9 million and $4.1 million, respectively, according to Box Office Mojo. Incidentally, both films included famous "Star Wars" touchstones in their own marketing campaigns. The weekend's other new release, Holocaust drama "Son of Saul" was only shown in three theaters. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2" dropped to $1.55 million in its fourth week and has grossed $250.3 million since its November release.

Lucas' original six-film series posted $4.4 billion in worldwide gross, with the "Revenge of the Sith" -- the sixth installment -- hitting theaters back in 2005. So far, the highest grosser in the franchise was Lucasfilm's 1999 release "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," with $1.02 billion worldwide.  

Disney put up $4 billion to buy Lucasfilm, the original "Star Wars" studio, in 2012 and it was a smart move. After "The Force Awakens," the studio will roll out four more films over the next four years and the revenue they generate could top $25 billion over the next five years, based on analyst estimates. Despite the record-breaking tally, shares of Disney were down more than 3% on Wall Street on Friday.

Times staff writers Richard Verrier, Ryan Faughnder, Meredith Woerner and Daniel Miller contributed to this report.

Follow me on Twitter @NardineSaad.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

1:45 p.m.: This post has been updated with comments from a theatergoer  and other details box office results for the weekend's other releases.

This post was originally published at 10:08 a.m. 

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