ByJoey Esposito, writer at
Joey Esposito is a writer and hoarder of things from New England, living in Los Angeles with his wife Amanda and their cat Reebo. He thinks
Joey Esposito

Unless you were born before May 24, 1977, you've never lived in a world where Star Wars was not a part of the pop culture fabric by which our lives are entwined.

Released on May 25, 1977, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope — then simply called Star Wars — premiered in the United States, a movie that 20th Century Fox had very little faith in, yet wound up reshaping cinema as we know it. Still, positive word of mouth led to fan excitement that proved the movie an unqualified success, despite its limited release opening.

Thirty-nine years later, Star Wars is a franchise with plenty of life left in it, seemingly destined to live as long as Yoda. In honor of this special day, we thought it'd be fun to take a look back to a time not so long ago, galactically speaking, and compare the numbers between Star Wars and 2015's The Force Awakens to see just how far this series — which started with a bang, as it was — has come in the better part of four decades.


$11 million ($43 million with inflation) vs. $245 million

It's no secret that movie budgets have spiraled out of control in recent years, so it's even more revealing how special Star Wars was, both as a story that resonated with audiences and as a technical filmmaking achievement. That it was made with what's considered these days to be a low budget for a summer blockbusters — and holds up — is incredible.

Global Box Office Draw

$775 million ($3 billion with inflation) vs. $2 billion

Even crazier than Star Wars' low budget was its return on investment. Keeping in mind that the original Star Wars has been rereleased numerous times, the fact that fans are willing to return to theaters again and again — long after the movie's premiere — says a lot.

On the flip side, that The Force Awakens has reached $2 billion in a fraction of the time is impressive — most impressive — but it's undeniable that its success is built on the back of the franchise groundwork that the original laid.

Photo Credit: Mann's Chinese Theatre.
Photo Credit: Mann's Chinese Theatre.

Peak Number Of Screens

950 vs. 4,134

At its height, Star Wars was only screening at 950 theaters. That's after it became a phenomenon — the movie premiered on only 43 screens its opening weekend in May and didn't expand until July. While movie theaters have changed a lot since the '70s — namely, there are more of them, and most housing multiple screens — it's still remarkable to consider how much money the film was able to draw with so few screens.

Amount Of Merchandise

An empty early bird box vs. Force Friday

So little faith was placed in Star Wars that toys were not ready to go at the time of the movie's release. There were other licensed items available, but toys — the most obvious marketing tactic aimed at kids — weren't actually in the hands of children until 1978. Because of the surprise impact of the movie, Kenner Products released an empty box in stores for the 1977 festive period that promised to send purchasers their figures once they were produced.

Compare that to The Force Awakens, where there was a marketing blitz on September 4, 2015 — dubbed Force Friday — that released dozens upon dozens of new items simultaneously across the world in retail stores and online, and the empty box is almost unthinkable. Except it really happened.

Photo Credit: Kenner
Photo Credit: Kenner

Weeks At No. 1 Domestically

23 vs. 3

In its original run from 1977 through 1978, Star Wars managed to take the No. 1 spot at the US box office 23 times. That a movie as successful as The Force Awakens only managed it for three weeks is testament to how much more crowded the blockbuster market is these days. That being said, The Force Awakens earned a lot more in a shorter amount of time.

Competing Movies

Smokey and the Bandit vs. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

At the time of Star Wars' release, 20th Century Fox was genuinely concerned about the movie premiering against the Burt Reynolds/Sally Field film Smokey and the Bandit. Of course, Smokey did just fine, spawning some sequels and becoming a classic in its own right.

However, when you look at the movies that The Force Awakens opened against, it's clear that other film studios cower in fear of the Star Wars name. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip was a movie more or less sent to walk the plank, considering that it theoretically sought the same audience as any Star Wars movie — that of families.

The Amy Poehler/Tina Fey R-rated comedy Sisters (considerably better made than The Road Chip, I might add), also opened against The Force Awakens, but the two films don't really have much crossover in terms of intended audience. Still, these days it's not a good sign for any movie to get released next to Star Wars, a far cry from how it was in '77.

(Sources: IMDb, Box Office Mojo, The Numbers)


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