‘Star Wars’ ticket sales set records two months before opening

Poster for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." CREDIT: Disney/Lucasfilm 2015.)

Walt Disney’s upcoming “Star Wars” film set sales records in the U.S. and Britain as the company began selling tickets two months before its opening.

AMC Entertainment Holdings, the second-largest U.S. cinema chain, said it sold out more than 1,000 shows. Online seller Fandango smashed its previous record, selling eight times as many tickets as it did for “The Hunger Games” in 2012.

“Fandango traffic surged to 7 times its typical peak levels,” the Comcast-owned site said in a statement Tuesday. It expects enthusiasm for the film “to continue all the way to its debut.”

Disney spent $4 billion for franchise owner Lucasfilm Ltd. in 2012, a decision that’s looking smarter as its first “Star Wars” movie, the seventh installment in the series, approaches. Movie theaters are adding new show times, and researcher BoxOffice.com is forecasting a $215 million opening-weekend box office in the U.S. and Canada, a new high for any film, when the movie makes its debut on Dec. 18.

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U.S. ticketing sites Fandango and MovieTickets.com struggled to keep up with demand in the first few hours tickets were available. Disney’s ESPN network kicked off early sales with a new trailer for the film during a “Monday Night Football” telecast. Some fans trying to buy tickets received error messages, and Twitter users reported trouble reaching the Fandango site, as well as those of some cinema chains.

“With such extraordinary demand, we saw intermittent technical challenges that caused some consumers to queue online longer than expected,” Fandango said in a statement. The websites of both Fandango and MovieTickets.com were working normally by early Tuesday New York time.

Movietickets.com said Monday that “The Force Awakens” became its No. 1 seller with 44 percent of tickets sold in the prior 24 hours. But its site too succumbed for a time, posting this message: “Web server is returning an unknown error.”

In the Britain., Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group said Monday online ticket sales for “Star Wars” set a record for the Britain chain and caused booking delays at its website.

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The Britain’s Vue Entertainment also had record advance ticket sales purchases, selling 10,000 in the first 90 minutes, according to an emailed statement. Customers were able to purchase throughout the day with only a few delays.

“We’ve seen massive traffic to our website today as guests book ahead” for “Star Wars” and the new James Bond film “Spectre,” Simon Soffe, an Odeon & UCI spokesman, said Monday in an email. The chain is owned by Guy Hands’s Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd., while Vue’s parent is Omers Private Equity.

Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne said in June that the movie could be the third highest-grossing film in history. He estimated “The Force Awakens” will take in $1.95 billion in ticket sales worldwide. That would place it behind “Avatar” at $2.8 billion and “Titanic” at $2.2 billion, according to data from Boxofficemojo.com.

Selling tickets two months before a film’s debut is a strategy Hollywood has occasionally deployed in the past for its most highly-anticipated releases.

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“The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J. Abrams, has revealed itself in two earlier trailers to be very much an homage to the 1977 original, even to the point of including many from the cast.

Disney has been seeding the market for a new generation of fans, showing “Star Wars Rebels,” a cartoon on its Disney XD network, and releasing toys globally last month in a promotion it dubbed “Force Friday.”