Deseret Morning News graphic

Although set in a galaxy far, far away, the "Star Wars" movies are again conquering and enthralling moviegoers on planet Earth: The last of the series has done what no movie has ever accomplished — sold $50 million worth of tickets in a single day.

And Utah's Megaplex 17 Theatres at Jordan Commons was in the thick of the phenomenon: The complex ranked first in the nation for total attendance Thursday, the day "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" made its debut, and fourth in gross box-office sales.

"Sith" grossed $50,013,859 from showings at 3,661 theaters and more than 9,000 screens around the country Thursday, including special midnight shows, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. That beat the one-day record set in May 2004 by "Shrek 2," which sold $44.8 million on a single Saturday — its fourth day in theaters.

The Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons reported Friday that it grossed $109,732 during the opening day of the film. A total of 16,297 tickets were sold.

"We worked 24 hours around the clock to keep up with the demand," Cal Gunderson, theater manager at Jordan Commons, said in a statement. "It's been a very busy and exciting weekend."

Why the difference in attendance and the ticket sales at the Commons?

"Other theaters around the nation charge a lot more for their ticket movie prices, and that is why we were not first in total gross profit," said Dale Harvey, general manager for the Megaplex theaters.

The George Lucas film, which features the transformation of Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) into the evil Darth Vader, also beat the previous opening day record held by "Spider-Man 2," which grossed $40.4 million when it opened on a Wednesday last June. The movie also stars Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor.

"Fifty million is a good opening weekend, let alone a single day," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. "This is the box-office equivalent of a 100-year flood."

It is almost assured the film will push well past the $100 million mark for its opening weekend.

The only question is — how far?

"The sky's the limit on how well this film could do," Dergarabedian said.

The news comes as a relief to Hollywood, which has seen a box office slump for 12 straight weeks.

Theater owners, studios and marketing partners had their hopes pinned on "Star Wars" to kick-start the summer movie season, and they weren't disappointed.

"It's staggering," said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Twentieth Century Fox. "It's probably 20 percent more than I thought we could do."

Utah's Jordan Commons also ranked nationally during the 2002 release of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." In November 2002, the theater raked in more than $200,000, making it the highest-grossing movie theater in the country for that film's opening weekend.

The first "Star Wars" opened in 1977 in 43 theaters and generated $1.55 million in ticket sales in its first weekend, according to Exhibitor Relations. In its first run in the United States and Canada, the film brought in $221.3 million. With re-releases, it has grossed $798 million worldwide.

The serial continued in 1980 with "The Empire Strikes Back," with ticket sales of $538.2 million. That was followed in 1983 by "Return of the Jedi," which brought in $475 million.

Lucas returned in 1999 with the beginning of his saga, "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace," which sold $922.8 million of tickets worldwide. "Attack of the Clones" brought in $649.4 million.

The record total gross for a single film is held by 1997's "Titanic," with $600.8 million in North America and $1.85 billion worldwide, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.


Contributing: Associated Press, Bloomberg News Service