Why and how 'Jurassic World' broke records

Universal's "Jurassic World" broke all sorts of records; foremost, it became the first film to ever surpass $500 million worldwide in a single weekend. In the U.S. it far exceeded expectations, grossing $208.8 million, just nudging past Marvel's "The Avengers" in 2012, which brought in more than $207 million.

Not only will Universal more than make back the $150 million it cost to make the movie, plus tens of millions more to market it, but it breathes new life into a decades-old franchise, and numerous toy spinoffs.

So why did the old dinosaurs roar back in such a massive way?

High-priced tickets for Imax and 3-D

About half the tickets sold were for 3-D screenings, which cost several dollars more than traditional screenings. Imax says "Jurassic World" set a worldwide record, generating $44.1 million for its 3-D screenings. That's 50 percent more than Imax's previous record. Imax President Greg Foster said theaters were packed—grossing an average of $57,000 per screen, the most it's seen since 3-D phenomenon of "Avatar."

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Bottom line: When a movie is big enough, enough of an event, people will pay up. "What it boils down to is if you see something that demands a giant screen, something that demands a shared experience, they'll go for it," said Foster.

China

"Jurassic World" brought in $130 million in China alone, now the second-largest movie-going market in the world. As China adds more theaters, its impact on Hollywood's coffers will only continue to grow.

Nostalgia and brand awareness

More than 60 percent of the audience this past weekend was over 25 years old, which means old enough to remember the first film, and often brought their families. "The director was fantastic at finding a way to honor the past but make it new in a contemporary way," said Foster.

Audiences didn't remember that sequels to the original "Jurassic Park" showed a brand on decline: the third one in 2001 grossed $181 million, down from $357 million for the original. Instead, audiences had fond memories of the familiar brand. In fact, Foster says other dinosaur movies have done "exceptionally well" at Imax theaters, and exit interviews with moviegoers have found that it's largely thanks to audiences' connection with "Jurassic Park."

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What Hollywood calls “four-quadrant” appeal

Hollywood divides moviegoers into four basic segments: male, female, young and old. It's unusual for a film to be able to appeal to all four groups, and when it does, it's a blockbuster. The fact that the film is rated PG-13, rather than R, allowed parents to bring their kids. Foster attributes its broad appeal to the director. "He found this amazing sweet spot. It's for fanboys and for families."

And what does it bode for the box office over the rest of the year?

"The movie business feeds off momentum. Last year was not a great year and that momentum became a self-fulfilling prophecy.This year the ducks are lined up quite nicely," said Foster, pointing to the slate of upcoming films, including "Mission Impossible," "Star Wars" and "Mockingjay," which could also be blockbusters.

He pointed to Marvel's upcoming "Antman," which had a special five-minute preview run ahead of "Jurassic World." The fact that a bigger-than-expected audience got an extended look at a lesser-known Marvel character could help increase awareness and bolster that film as well. "If ever there were a year that was lined up in a wonderful way, it's 2015."

Disclosure: Universal is part of NBC Universal, as is CNBC.

Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the final opening weekend tally of $208.8 million for "Jurassic World."