Yes, But What Does That ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ Release Date Really Mean?

By  · Published on November 8th, 2013

Yesterday’s official announcement that J.J. AbramsStar Wars: Episode VII is set to hit theaters on December 18, 2015 was a long time coming – after months of chatter (not all of it especially heartening), it was high time that Disney and Lucasfilm gave us something official and tangible to chew on. A release date! Line up now! Or probably don’t because that’s actually insane.

But like the announcement of any highly anticipated release date, the news that the newest Star Wars will arrive just in time for the 2015 holiday season comes complete with plenty of analysis. Why now? Why then? Why? Here’s your short answer – December 2015 is when the film needs to be ready (at least financially speaking), it’s a target date the film’s creative team thinks they can hit, and it’s perfectly poised to pull in lots of holiday dollars. That’s it – timing and money. In fact, that’s what most release date setting consists of, finding a spot for a film that will guarantee a finished product and the chance to make some return. But that doesn’t mean we can’t just overanalyze this thing to high heaven in the meantime. After all, December 2015 is a long, long way away. (It’s practically in its own galaxy.)

Breaking With Traditional Release Dates

“Traditional release dates” are lunacy and no one should care about them. Actually, scratch that – the only people who actually care about film franchises sticking with release dates that match up (always getting released in the summer, or going with a holiday-pegged date, etc.) are people who already care too much about those franchises. It’s a superfan’s game, and you know what that means? These people will turn out to see the film regardless of when it hits theaters. Sure, it’s fun to have a movie-going tradition to fall back on (“it’s Fourth of July and we will celebrate America in the traditional way – by seeing the new Transformers film. Boom boom, Michael Bay!”), but it’s an entirely arbitrary yardstick for presumed quality and consistency. If you love a film franchise enough to genuinely care about when it gets released, you should care enough about it getting released when it’s ready, no matter when that happens to be (though, yes, we’d all be a bit cagey about this thing if it was stuck in the January deadzone, but that would never happen). Star Wars films have tradtitionally opened in May, making Episode VII the first to break with that. Too bad.

Recent franchises that have gone for the consistent release date include The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games, and Paranormal Activity. The Paranormal Activity franchise gets a bit of a pass – while the first film technically opened in September, the team has shoved subsequent installments into October, ostensibly to capture Halloween fans needing some scares. How dedicated are they to sticking to it? When the franchise’s fifth film wasn’t on course to open this October, they shoved it to next year, giving the found footage-loving world its fist year without a new PA film since 2009. Too bad for October that the franchise’s first spin-off, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, will hit screens in January.

But Twilight? Despite sticking with mid-November release dates for four out of five films, the lone June release (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) is actually the highest grossing film of the franchise. Sorry, November! Oh, wait, nevermind, November, now you’re home to The Hunger Games franchise (the second film will arrive later this month, and Lionsgate has already locked down November 21, 2014 and November 20, 2015 for the film two films). Too bad the franchise started back in March of 2012, ensuring that “traditional” talk is straight bonkers.

Past Box Office Performance for the Franchise

So how did the other Star Wars films do in their initial releases (all tucked up their cozy May release dates)? Thanks to Boxoffice Mojo’s incredibly inflation-adjusted chart, we can tell you! (If you want to see “actual” box office returns for the films, just scroll up on that page.)

  1. Star Wars — $1,149,008,800 (the 1997 Special Edition and 1982 reissue adds $242,478,400 and $42,375,500 to this, respectively)
  2. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace — $682,847,700
  3. Return of the Jedi – $651,916,200 (the 1997 Special Edition and 1985 reissue adds $79,746,600 and $25,515,400 to this, respectively)
  4. The Empire Strikes Back — $634,841,000 (the 1997 Special Edition and 1982 reissue adds $118,553,700 and $36,351,600 to this, respectively)
  5. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith – $477,562,900
  6. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones — $418,698,700

What does it all mean? Honestly, it means what you already know it means – Star Wars films make money and it doesn’t matter when they come out (look at the release dates for the re-issues and Special Editions, which run the gamut from January to November).

Competition in 2015

But what will Star Wars: Episode VII be going up against in December of 2015? Well, there’s actually some surprisingly good fare already stuffed in there – from Warcraft to Live By Night to holdovers from November like Bond 24 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2. But there’s also plenty of stuff that won’t compete, including Alvin and the Chipmunks 4 and Kung Fu Panda 3. As of now, the only other two films still holding on to the December 18th release date are Inferno and Warcraft, and it’s safe to assume that both of those features are going to exit that date, and quickly. Star Wars is a behemoth, a franchise monster, a cultural event, and here’s the truth – the release date does not matter, this thing will win any opening date, any weekend, any month, and probably any year it so decides to show up in.

At least now you have some fun trivia to toss out when you’re inevitably trapped discussing it for the next two years.

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