Midnight Update:Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 3D opened to a solid $1.1 million at midnight screenings last night. More impressive, though, was The Vow's $700,000 midnight gross, which is fairly high for a romance. Finally, Safe House scored a decent $543,000 from 1,034 locations. Based on these results, it's reasonable to expect that all three of these movies finishes with over $20 million this weekend.
Arriving a full 16 years after Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace was one of the most anticipated movies ever when it opened in May 1999. At the time, it was the fastest movie ever to reach $100 million, and its final tally of $431.1 million currently ranks seventh on the all-time list (21st adjusted for inflation). Reactions were mixed at the time, though: while there were plenty of exciting action set pieces, and it was of course nice to have a new Star Wars adventure, many believed the movie was marred with wooden acting, a dry story and one very bizarre character addition (hint: he lives at the bottom of a lake, and he pronounces the first person plural as "wesa").
Distributor 20th Century Fox's marketing effort seems specifically designed to combat the popular question "Why re-release this movie?" Nearly all of the advertising material highlights either the podrace or the climactic three-way lightsaber duel, both of which are shot in such a way that they seem like a natural fit for 3D. Also, for nearly two-thirds of the 30-second Super Bowl commercial, clips from otherStar Wars movies were shown in an attempt to invoke nostalgia for the series as a whole.
So far, the recent crop of 3D re-releases have all been from the Disney animated vault. In September, The Lion King 3D opened to $30.2 million, and just last month Beauty and the Beast 3D scored $17.8 million. Those movies are probably more beloved today, though, and Disney's content is a little bit harder to come by than Star Wars (the Blu-rays were just released in the Fall, and it feels like the entire series accounts for around half of Spike TV's programming). Beyond all of this, though, it's important to remember the obvious fact that Star Wars is Star Wars, and the idea of getting to experience any of it again (or for the first time) on the big screen is an enticing offer. A Fox representative indicated that they are hoping for a $20 million debut.
Aside from its U.S. debut, The Phantom Menace 3D is also opening in 88 other countries this weekend, including Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom. With a worldwide total of $924.3 million from its original release, it's a near certainty that the re-release pushes the movie over the $1 billion mark.