Destined to be one of the biggest blockbusters, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith blasted off with $158.4 million since Thursday. The $113 million space opera shattered the four-day record once held by Spider-Man 2's $130.5 million after notching new milestones for midnight showing, opening and single day, two-day and three-day grosses.
From Friday to Sunday, Revenge of the Sith ruled with $108.4 million, ranking as the second best opening weekend ever behind Spider-Man's $114.8 million and slightly ahead of Shrek 2's $108.0 million. Sith was never expected to take the crown on this front—its $50 million Thursday burning off too much demand—though it would have had it debuted a day later.
"We blew the doors down," Fox's head of domestic distribution, Bruce Snyder, told Box Office Mojo. "It's the culmination of the series, it's the hook that everyone's looking for, and, on top of that, it completes the circle." Snyder said that the studio's exit polling on Friday indicated that 52 percent of the audience was over 25 years old and 58 percent was male.
All bets were off for this final installment as creator George Lucas and company, calculated downplaying to the contrary, gave Revenge of the Sith one of the most ubiquitous releases ever, instead of the controlled roll-outs of the previous prequels, Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace. In addition to licensing the characters to hock everything from soda to cell phones, Sith played on an estimated 9,400 screens at 3,661 theaters, while Clones was on 6,100 screens at 3,161 theaters and Phantom on 5,500 screens at 2,970 theaters.
Overseas, Revenge of the Sith opened wider than any other movie in history, in 105 countries, amassing $145.5 million. All told, the $303.9 million worldwide start after five days stands as an all time high, eclipsing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King's $250.1 million, though the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy's finale played in a much smaller number of countries.
To many, it's no surprise that the most popular movie series would yield records with its finale. However, industry expectations were cooler based, in part, on the lagging market of the past few months, mixed audience reactions to Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace, and the performance of Clones. In the shadow of Spider-Man's historic run in 2002, Clones made $310.7 million and was by far the least popular Star Wars movie. Its four predecessors each rank in the top 20 of all time adjusted for ticket price inflation. Clones came in at No. 80.
Revenge of the Sith was in no one's shadow, marking the first true event picture of the year. What's more, the hype on Sith promised a superior movie to the other prequels, and Mr. Lucas added luster to Sith with the DVD premiere of the original trilogy last September. The Phantom Menace had 16 years of pent-up demand behind it since Return of the Jedi, and that led to a $431.1 million gross. Attack of the Clones lacked any of those enticements.
Many of the biggest blockbusters of all time, including Gone with the Wind, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings, have sad or bittersweet endings. Knowing all the events that transpire in Revenge of the Sith didn't abate audiences' desire to see it. Such knowledge didn't deter people from seeing The Passion of the Christ, either. If anything, the impending doom made them more excited.
Few blockbusters close with complete tragedy, though, making Revenge of the Sith's popularity unique with corruption of the hero as its focus. The descent into darkness gave the series its first PG-13 Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating after years of ostensibly family-friendly PG ratings.
• Star Wars Special Briefing
NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, May 22 and was updated on Monday, May 23 with actual grosses and revised four-day records.