Steven Spielberg is a master of filmmaking and a cinematic oracle: he’s been ahead of the curve at every opportunity as a blockbuster pioneer, alongside his friend George Lucas. But, Spielberg’s initial prediction about the box office potential of his comrade’s movie Star Wars was way off by an incredible margin.
He predicted that Star Wars, by the end of its time in theaters, would make between $50-$60 million. Oh boy, was he wrong. Instead, the film broke all existing records, becoming the highest-grossing movie ever and it cemented itself as one of the best science fiction movies ever, too.
Spielberg’s prediction came off the back of an early rough-cut screening that Lucas put together for some fellow directors to get an outside verdict on his work. At the time, that small audience didn’t realize that they were watching what would become one of the best movies of all time. [Some] felt sorry for me,” said Lucas, in a clip from a behind-the-scenes documentary shared on YouTube. “[They said] ‘Oh gee, that’s too bad George. Some said, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,’ and some liked it.” Spielberg was in the final camp.
The Jaws director explained, “George said, ‘I think I just made a kids movie, I think this is not gonna fly.’ I said, ‘I think it’s going to be a big hit. I think it’ll make $50-$60 [million].” Meanwhile, Lucas’ prediction was that it would make a paltry $15-20. “Wow were we wrong!” Spielberg concluded.
The first Star Wars movie would, of course, exceed all box office expectations, eventually bringing in a record-breaking $775 million. New movies in the franchise proved to be just as successful, and have remained so. The most recent film, 2019’s Rise of Skywalker, grossed over $1 billion at the global box office despite proving to be divisive among critics and fans.
However, a lot has changed since 2019, and Star Wars’ first real box office challenge since 1977 will come within the next few years. Mega-franchises like Marvel and DC have lost their unrelenting command, and have been hit with a slew of financial disappointments. Whether or not this same franchise fatigue will impact Star Wars too is a fascinating question and the seemingly endless string of Disney Plus series may not have helped.
If Marvel’s proven anything, it’s that these series can lead to simultaneous oversaturation and disengagement. On the one hand, the franchise begins to stop feeling special because new content has become so regular, and on the other fans who haven’t seen all the series can feel disconnected from the franchise, making new films seem inaccessible. Could that impact new Star Wars movies too?
Still, Star Wars is Star Wars: it holds a special and particular place in pop culture, and like Steven Spielberg, any predictions we make now could end up being proven very wrong.
For more on the franchise, check out our list of the greatest Star Wars characters and Star Wars villains, and see our guide on the best way to watch the Star Wars movies in order. Or, look ahead to see what’s in store for Andor season 2.