Star Wars Episode VIII is already at the forefront of fans’ minds following the successful drop of The Force Awakens in theaters a little over a week ago.
The seventh film in the long-running space opera has smashed about every box office record there is with the big one in its sights (highest grossing film of all time).
But if you are expecting the next installment to do this well, you may want to think again. One need only look at the numbers to see that Star Wars: The Force Awakens box office success is an anomaly not likely to be replicated any time soon, and that includes Star Wars Episode VIII.
Starting with the prequel trilogy — for reasons that will be divulged in a moment — there is a track record of the Star Wars films declining in box office as their installments continue, according to Box Office Mojo.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace premiered in theaters on May 19, 1999. It was almost as highly anticipated at the time as The Force Awakens was in 2015 — almost, because it did not have the added luxury of returning the original cast.
Even so, anticipation was huge, and series creator George Lucas was able to ride that to a $474 million domestic lifetime gross. (To date, it has grossed $1 billion worldwide.)
Reviews from both fans and critics were mixed on the first installment, and that was with a lot of “benefit of the doubt” that people were giving it at the time.
Today, TPM carries a “rotten” rating on the critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, a footnote that could have contributed to the next film’s precipitous drop.
With Episode II: Attack of the Clones, box office numbers eased considerably to $310 million domestic lifetime ($649 million worldwide).
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith enjoyed a bit of a bounce when it closed out the prequel trilogy on May 19, 2005. The film that gave fans the birth of Darth Vader jumped to $380 million domestic lifetime and close to $849 million worldwide.
Now, why start with the prequels, which are maligned by a majority of fans and a significant portion of the film criticism community? After all, couldn’t it just be said that the films’ quality may have accounted for the waning interest from Episode I to III?
If you look at the much loved original trilogy, you will notice the same trajectory.
The original Star Wars, later titled Episode IV: A New Hope, grossed close to $461 million domestically over its lifetime in theaters. Worldwide, it picked up another $314 million for a final tally of $775 million.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, which is largely considered the best film in the series, witnessed a dip from ANH to $290 million domestic lifetime and $538 million worldwide.
The performance of Empire led to a surge for the OT’s finale, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, which enjoyed $309 million domestic lifetime ($475 million worldwide).
Looking at the numbers, Star Wars Episode VIII is almost guaranteed to do worse than The Force Awakens, at least if history is any guide.
Of course, that won’t make the film a failure. It’s likely that Star Wars Episode VIII will cross the $1 billion mark with ease, but you might want to hold off on seeing it as a $2 billion grosser.
Why the drop when most fans and critics are over-the-moon for this new film?
It’s likely because TFA brought in a bigger nostalgia audience than the next film is likely to attract based on its unique circumstances (i.e. original cast, long layoff, no Lucas involvement, etc).
The film is truly a cultural milestone while Star Wars Episode VIII, regardless if it’s better or worse, will be considered “just another sequel.”
With TFA, you likely saw many people go only one time to see what the fanfare was about. These people may have been pressured by family members and/or friends.
Now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag, they likely won’t feel that same pressure the next time around, leaving the fate of Star Wars Episode VIII to general movie audiences and hardcore fans of the saga, the latter of whom are likely to go multiple times as they are doing with TFA.
What do you think about Star Wars Episode VIII, readers? Will it see another drop as II and V did, or will it buck the trend? Sound off in the comments section.
[Image via Star Wars: The Force Awakens screen grab]