Disney chief on Star Wars box office: Don’t get cocky

Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger sounded a little bit like Han Solo today on the company’s earnings call when an investment analyst asked about his expectations for this December’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Great, kid! … Don’t get cocky.

Asked to assess the impact of the film’s release, Iger – who acquired Lucasfilm for Disney in 2012 for roughly $4 billion – tried to temper expectations rather than amplify them.

“On the Star Wars front, we know there is just incredible interest in this film,” Iger said on the company’s quarterly earnings call. “We put two teaser trailers out, and the response has just been enormous. Anything that moves gets a lot of attention, and the anticipation is obviously huge. We’ve seen some examples already of Star Wars product going on the marketplace on the consumer products front, including in markets like China, that are very, very encouraging.”

Then he offered up a quick, “That said …”

“That said, as enthusiastic as we are for what we know of the film, we have not seen a Star Wars film — an original one — since 2005. And there are markets around the world that are less familiar with Star Wars than, say, the United States, for instance,” Iger went on.

It was an obvious effort to slow runaway excitement. In June, Morgan Stanley estimated a box office tally of $650 million in the United States and $1.3 billion internationally, while also questioning whether they were being too conservative. The investment firm also speculated The Force Awakens could earn $750 million domestically and $1.5 billion overseas, for a total of $2.25 billion. (And that wouldn’t include toys, video games, and other merchandising.)

The current record-holder for highest-grossing global box office is 2009’s Avatar, which collected $2.78 billion, followed by 1997’s Titanic, which earned $2.18 billion, and this summer’s Jurassic World, which has made $1.56 billion.

“While the [Star Wars] enthusiasm is, I think, rather apparent, we just want to be careful that the world doesn’t get ahead of us too much in terms of the estimates, and we’ve seen them as well,” Iger said. “We’re making, at this point, no estimates whatsoever in terms of what we believe the film will do.”

Since it’s always better to exceed expectations rather than simply meet them, Iger sought to pour a little cool water on the subject without sounding like he was diminishing what has clearly become the jewel in The Walt Disney Co.’s film slate.

“We know we have probably the most valuable film franchise that ever existed. We know we have the ability as a company to leverage it in very compelling ways, whether it’s Disney Infinity, whether it’s at the parks, whether it’s on the consumer products front or TV front,” Iger went on. “We fully expect the success of this film will reverberate throughout the company, not only in 2016 but in the years beyond, because we obviously have a rich slate of Star Wars films coming.”

Just to make sure it was clear, he repeated that he was worried the market would get ahead of itself and begin setting unrealistic goals.

“Let’s all continue to anticipate the movie and be optimistic about it,” Iger said. “But we have to take a wait-and-see approach about what it will do.”

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