Disney bought Lucasfilm six years ago today and has already recouped its $4 billion investment

Key Points
  • Six years ago, Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion.
  • The four Star Wars feature films Disney has released since 2015 have grossed more than $4.8 billion at the box office.
  • Disney also makes money from licensing agreements and sales of merchandise, apparel and toys.
Producer Kathleen Kennedy, C-3PO and Mark Hamill attend the 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' press conference at the Ritz Carlton Tokyo on December 7, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan.
Christopher Jue | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Disney's purchase of "Star Wars" production company Lucasfilm is proving to be one of the smartest acquisitions ever made in corporate America.

The deal, worth $4.05 billion in cash and stock, was announced Oct. 30, 2012 and marked the start of a new era in the Star Wars franchise. Disney would make back that investment and more in just a few short years. The four Star Wars feature films Disney has produced have grossed more than $4.8 billion at the box office, according to comScore.

"This was one of the smartest acquisitions in history," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, told CNBC.

While box office grosses are a solid measure of a film's success, they still don't tell the whole story. There are hundreds of millions of dollars of costs that come into play, along with dozens of other "Star Wars" revenue streams.

The receipts don't account for the estimated $200 million to $300 million Disney shelled out per film in production costs or the money spent on its robust marketing campaigns to promote each release.

Then there's also the money Disney makes on DVD, BluRay and digital sales, not to mention licensing agreements for the brand and sales of its own Star Wars apparel, toys and novelizations. Ahead of the release of "The Force Awakens" in 2015, Disney's earnings got a boost from sales of Star Wars merchandise on Force Friday, a September event designed to excite fans of the franchise to purchase newly released goods.

Not to mention, Disney has two Star Wars Lands under construction at theme parks in California and Florida due to open next year. Between the box office receipts, merchandise sales and licensing agreements, Disney has more than made back it's original investment, Dergarabedian said.

Stars Wars plush set.
Source: ThinkGeek

Bob Iger, who became Disney's CEO in 2005, is no stranger to making big acquisitions. Iger facilitated the purchase of Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion and Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4 billion. Both production companies have gone on to make billions at the box office — a whopping $17 billion for Marvel across 20 films and $13.2 billion for Pixar over 13 films, according to Box Office Mojo.

Lucasfilm is poised to do the same, as its first three films all made over $1 billion at the global box office — "The Force Awakens" made $2 billion. "Solo: A Star Wars Story" was the only film that was widely panned at the box office, making under $400 million worldwide.

"'Solo' still made a lot of money," Dergarabedian said. "By any other measure 'Solo' was a success, but in the realm of 'Star Wars' anything less than a grand slam home run is seen as a disappointment. So [that film] was held to a higher standard, no question, but that's because of how well the films have done even before Disney."

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away

The groundwork was laid by George Lucas, the filmmaker and mastermind behind the Star Wars universe. He created Lucasfilm in 1971, which acted as a production company and a visual effects and animation studio. In its more than 50-year history, Lucasfilm would produce iconic films like "Indiana Jones," "Labyrinth" and "Willow," as well as a fresh "Star Wars" trilogy in the early 2000s.

Lucasfilm still holds the rights to Indiana Jones. Although a fifth film in that franchises has been teased by the company, it is unclear when that will come to fruition. Current expectations have a film hitting theaters in 2021.

When it was time again to revisit the Star Wars universe, Lucas hired Kathleen Kennedy, an industry veteran who had long worked with Steven Spielberg and with the special effects team at Lucasfilm. Kennedy would become the head of Lucasfilm after it was sold to Disney.

While a recent box office stumble by "Solo" has forced the company to reevaluate and even shelve a number of projects including a stand-alone Obi-Wan Kenobi film and a Boba Fett film, under Kennedy's leadership, Lucasfilm has blossomed.

The yet untitled Star Wars: Episode IX is due out in December 2019, and two separate trilogies are under development, one by "The Last Jedi" director Rian Johnson and another by "Game of Thrones" show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

Lucasfilm has also created two animated shows. "Star Wars: Forces of Destiny" is a webseries that is released through Lucasfilm Animation on Disney's YouTube channel that focuses on the female characters in the "Star Wars" universe while "Star Wars Resistance" is a series that airs on the Disney Channel and is set in the era of the most recent "Star Wars" trilogy.

Kennedy's contract was renewed by Disney in late September, meaning she will remain the head of Lucasfilm for at least the next three years.

Shares of Walt Disney are up 15.6 percent since last year and more than 127 percent since Disney purchased Lucasfilm six years ago today.

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