'Star Wars' spells big gains for IMAX, JPMorgan lifts box office estimates

Key Points
  • JPMorgan says the "overwhelmingly positive" "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" reviews could spell strong traffic when the film opens this weekend, meaning box office upside for IMAX.
  • "Overall, assuming solid performance for "The Last Jedi," we believe there could be upside to our fourth-quarter IMAX global box office estimate of $285 million," wrote analyst Alexia Quadrani.
  • When "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opened in 2015, it set a $48 million global opening weekend box office record for IMAX.
Daisy Ridley (L) and Mark Hamill attend the European Premiere of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' at the Royal Albert Hall on December 12, 2017 in London, England.
David M. Benett | Dave Benett | WireImage | Getty Images

Disney's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which premieres in U.S. theaters on Friday, could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in unanticipated box office revenue for IMAX, according to JPMorgan analysis.

As the latest installment in the sci-fi epic, "The Last Jedi" has received a swell of positive reviews from film critics in recent days, leading JPMorgan analyst Alexia Quadrani to speculate that weekend traffic could be strong.

"The Last Jedi" "could drive upside to our fourth-quarter estimates with overwhelmingly positive reviews for the film," wrote Quadrani on Tuesday, giving a nod to the film's 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. "Overall, assuming solid performance for The Last Jedi, we believe there could be upside to our fourth-quarter IMAX global box office estimate of $285 million, +15 percent year-over-year."

The film will be released in a record number of IMAX theaters worldwide — starting with 775 domestic and international screens for its opening weekend and an additional 503 screens in China next month, according to a company spokesperson. Pre-sale IMAX tickets are now the second-highest in IMAX history, exceeding Christopher Nolan's final Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."

Some scenes were shot using IMAX's extremely high-resolution cameras, providing audiences with better image quality in the company's exclusive aspect ratio.

The film is so popular that NASA is partnering with Disney to screen the film for its astronauts in outer space.

Looking back at the 2015 release of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," Quadrani noted that global opening set a weekend box office record for IMAX, which added $48 million over a few days. The film would ultimately gross about $130 million in IMAX box office in the fourth quarter of 2015.

While she expects "The Last Jedi" to perform "modestly lower" than "The Force Awakens," Quadrani explained that the new film has the advantage of one additional weekend in the month of December.

Though up 21 percent in the past three months, IMAX shares slipped 0.4 percent Wednesday.