'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' passes 'Avatar' as U.S. box-office champ

Star Wars: The Force Awakens” officially became the highest grossing movie in U.S. history Wednesday, not adjusting for inflation.

The Walt Disney Co. movie has surpassed the previous domestic record of $760.5 million held by the 2009 James Cameron blockbuster “Avatar,” according to studio estimates, achieving the landmark feat in just 20 days.

 

Actual studio box-office figures will not be released until Thursday morning. However, the movie had grossed $758.2 million in ticket sales from the U.S. and Canada as of Tuesday, guaranteeing the threshold would be passed Wednesday.

“The Force Awakens,” the seventh film in the Lucasfilm space saga, has broken numerous records around the world since its release on the night of Dec. 17. Its first domestic weekend generated $248 million in ticket sales, shattering the previous benchmark set with the June launch of Universal Pictures' “Jurassic World.”

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It has also proved an impressive draw internationally, posting the biggest opening weekends in countries including Germany, Australia and Russia. It crossed the global $1-billion mark in 12 days, faster than any previous movie.

 

However, it remains to be seen whether the film can reach “Avatar's” worldwide record of nearly $2.8 billion. Analysts expect “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to eventually gross more than $2 billion, a benchmark reached only by “Avatar” and “Titanic.” Much depends on how the film fares in China, the world’s second-largest movie market, where it arrives Saturday.

“The Force Awakens’” global tally now stands at about $1.56 billion, making it the fourth-highest grossing movie worldwide so far. (The 2015 release “Jurassic World” is No. 3 with $1.67 billion.)

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Its success bodes well for Disney, which bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012 and has multiple other “Star Wars” movies planned. Disney also stands to reap rewards across business segments including toys, video games, theme parks and television.

Although the numbers are impressive, the all-time U.S.-Canada rankings change significantly when factoring ticket price inflation.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the 21st-highest grossing film in history when the numbers are adjusted, according to Box Office Mojo. “Gone With the Wind,” from 1939, remains the all-time box-office champion with more than $1.7 billion domestically in today’s dollars. The original 1977 “Star Wars” ranks in second place with around $1.5 billion, including re-releases.

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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UPDATE

4:55 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has now officially broken "Avatar's" domestic record. 

It was originally published at 10:49 a.m.

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