May the Fourth be with you! Thanks to that phrase, Star Wars fans have adopted May 4th as a day to celebrate their favorite franchise. And here at FinanceBuzz, we count ourselves among that fan base.
While Star Wars is now an unavoidable media behemoth that fans enjoy in the forms of popular streaming TV shows like The Mandalorian; cutting-edge theme park attractions; best-selling video games, toys, and books; and so much more, the movies are how most people first fell in love with the franchise.
Our team wanted to celebrate the cinematic impact Star Wars has had on lives around the globe on this May 4th and beyond, so we decided to break down all things Star Wars at the box office, including critic and fan ratings, the total amount each film grossed in the U.S., and even how much money fans might have spent on tickets to see all these movies in theaters.
Star Wars ticket prices over time
While it may seem like a distant memory from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away, there once was a time when people went out to watch movies in theaters instead of streaming them in their living room. And any time a new Star Wars movie was released people turned out in droves. For many filmgoers, a new installment was a must-see event, with the most die-hard fans often viewing the newest movie multiple times.
As a result, there are plenty of people who can say they have seen multiple Star Wars films during their initial releases at the theaters, happily buying a ticket each time. That got us thinking about how much people could have spent on Star Wars tickets over the years.
Our team was able to find the average cost for a movie ticket in each year that a Star Wars movie was released through The National Association of Theatre Owners. Using that data we found that a theoretical moviegoer who has seen every one of the 11 films in the franchise at initial release would have spent a total of $69.66 on tickets.
We also averaged review scores from three sources (Rotten Tomatoes critics score, Rotten Tomatoes audience score, and IMDB) to categorize each movie as “good,” “bad,” or “average,” and determined how much people could have spent watching the Star Wars movies in each of those categories.
The chart above explains the scoring metric used to determine the threshold for each category, and also shows that “bad” Star Wars movies have cost moviegoers the most money at the time of release. Anyone who has seen every movie in that category would have spent over $38, which is more than the amount to see all “good” and “average” Star Wars movies combined.
Of course, part of the reason for that difference is due to the cost of tickets when these movies first started coming out in the 1970s versus the release dates of the newest installments. To account for that, our team also calculated the average ticket price for each movie based on the rate of inflation since the time of release.
After this adjustment, we see that the most expensive Star Wars movie to buy a ticket for on average was the original, A New Hope, which cost the average moviegoer $9.73 when adjusted for inflation. The least expensive movie ticket on average was The Phantom Menace, at an inflation-adjusted cost of just $8.01.
Finally, our team found the average ticket price for movies in each of the three categories, both at the time of release and adjusted for inflation, which can be seen in the chart below.
|Movie quality||Average ticket cost at time of release||Average ticket cost adjusted for inflation|
Interestingly, this analysis shows a remarkable consistency in the cost of movie tickets over time as it relates to inflation and consumer purchasing power. That being said, tickets to movies that qualify as “bad” in the franchise are the least expensive post-inflation, meaning that even if fans were disappointed in those installments at least they were able to save a few cents on tickets!
As mentioned, we used three different sources to determine the overall quality of each Star Wars film for evaluation purposes, with the average among the three used as the final rating throughout. We used that average score to account for some major differences of opinion between critics and audiences.
It is worth noting that scores on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes only include reviews from after those sites were launched in 1990 and 1998, respectively. As a result, the scores for the original trilogy may be inflated some by legacy bias, but scores for subsequent films include reviews that were contemporary with when they were released.
We decided to visualize the differences in these scores to illustrate how even for a universally beloved franchise like Star Wars not everyone agrees on what constitutes a good movie.
When examined this way, we see a consensus exists about the quality of the original trilogy, with fans and critics praising all three movies. However, fans liked Return of the Jedi more than critics did, giving it a rating of 94% while critics only gave it a still-respectable 82%.
Similarly, fans and critics are within 10% of each other when evaluating the first two movies in the prequel trilogy — Episodes I, II, and III — before diverging slightly at the final movie of the three. In regards to that final installment in this trilogy, critics had a more favorable opinion of Revenge of the Sith, rating it 14% higher than the fans.
Not until recently, with the first slate of movies produced by Disney — Episodes VII, VIII, and IX — has there been a truly massive divide between critics and the audience. The second Disney film in the trilogy, 2017’s The Last Jedi, demonstrated the biggest difference between critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 48-point difference in rating. The second biggest gap came with the follow-up, The Rise of Skywalker, with a 35-point difference in opinion. Interestingly, critics liked The Last Jedi much more than audiences, and the roles reversed for The Rise of Skywalker.
In both cases, however, IMDB’s ratings essentially split the difference between Rotten Tomatoes’ critics and fans, suggesting that IMDB might be the best resource for a balanced assessment of how good a given Star Wars movie truly is.
Box office performance
While we think of Star Wars movies as massive moneymakers no matter how good or bad they are, we decided to test this notion. We compared the average rating score for each movie in the franchise against box office performance.
The evidence suggests that quality does impact box office performance, at least relative to the franchise as a whole. For added context, and a more equitable comparison, we included both actual box office gross and inflation-adjusted gross for each film.
While the original three movies receive high praise, only the first one, A New Hope, truly set the box office on fire, earning more than $1.3 billion when adjusted for inflation. Anticipation for new films after a break of more than a decade and a half resulted in The Phantom Menace greatly outperforming the critical consensus in terms of ticket sales, but starting with Attack of the Clones box office performance has mirrored critical consensus fairly closely for the most part.
The outliers in the chart are also outliers in the franchise, as the anthology movies Rogue One and Solo both received more critical than commercial success. Given that these films take a step back from the overarching narrative of the nine mainline movies, it is not surprising to see that fans don’t clamor to see them with quite the same fervor.
As mentioned above, A New Hope is the most commercially successful of the original films when adjusted for inflation, something that holds true even when compared to the newer films in the series. Only one other Star Wars film, 2015’s The Force Awakens, tops the billion-dollar mark when adjusted for inflation. That movie is also the most well-received in the franchise since Return of the Jedi, with an average rating of 86%.
Visualizing the franchise
To this point, we have based all our evaluations on box office performance during the initial theatrical release of each movie. Of course, initial releases are not the only times these movies were in theaters, as anyone who remembers watching the infamous “Special Editions” in 1997 can attest to.
To get a fuller picture of how Star Wars has done across all its theatrical releases, we created these charts visualizing every U.S. theatrical release, including release year, which portion of the franchise each release belongs to, average ticket price, and box office performance.
We made two versions, one based on monetary values at the time of each specific release, and one where we have adjusted all costs for inflation.
When just looking at costs and box office returns at the time of release, we see a fairly straightforward progression in how movie ticket prices have changed over time. When the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977 someone could see it for just $2.23, while the average cost to see the most recent entry in the series was over four times that amount at $9.16.
Once we adjust the data to account for inflation, however, we see that in terms of actual consumer purchasing power the best time to be a movie fan was the mid-90s. The 1997 “Special Edition” versions of the original film trilogy came out in that era, and have the cheapest inflation-adjusted average ticket price of any Star Wars release, at just $7.54. That is nearly 50 cents cheaper than tickets for any other movie in the series.
Since the first movie released in 1977, the longest gap without a Star Wars theatrical release of some kind was 12 years, from 1985 to 1997. That represents the time between the re-release of Return of the Jedi and the Special Edition versions of the original trilogy.
Contrast that 12-year break with the fact that from 2015 to 2019 there was a new Star Wars movie released every single year. The five films released in that time frame grossed over $2.8 billion at the box office (over $3 billion when adjusted for inflation). Those kinds of strong returns give us a hint as to why Disney is so committed to putting new films in theaters with such regularity.
To make comparing the data a little easier, we put together this chart showing how many times each Star Wars movie has been released in theaters in the United States, how much those releases earned initially, and the amounts those initial totals would add up to in 2021 dollars.
|Film||Initial release year||Number of total theatrical releases||Combined box office gross at time of release||Inflation-adjusted combined box office gross|
|Episode IV-A New Hope||1977||3||$460,998,507||$1,610,261,080|
|Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back||1980||4||$292,753,960||$823,309,853|
|Episode VI-Return of the Jedi||1983||3||$309,306,177||$771,817,030|
|Episode I-The Phantom Menace||1999||2||$474,544,677||$732,149,103|
|Episode II-Attack of the Clones||2002||2||$310,676,740||$454,230,820|
|Episode III-Revenge of the Sith||2005||1||$380,270,577||$514,344,135|
|Episode VII-The Force Awakens||2015||1||$936,662,225||$1,041,106,174|
|Episode VIII-The Last Jedi||2017||1||$620,181,382||$661,665,086|
|Episode IX-The Rise of Skywalker||2019||1||$515,202,542||$527,576,402|
Showing our work
To this point, our team has taken all the data we collected relating to the Star Wars movies and how they have performed at the box office and turned them into data visualizations. While we loved playing around in the Star Wars sandbox that way, we also know some people prefer data to be simpler and to the point.
For that reason, we put all the information our team gathered into the two charts you can see below, both of which present the data on each movie in a straightforward way.
This first chart only covers the initial release for each movie. For each of those 11 films, we found data relating to review scores, ticket pricing, box office performance, and even technical details such as how long each movie is. We also took the box office gross for each film and divided it by the average ticket price to get an estimation of how many people saw each movie in theaters upon initial release. We included averages and combined totals for all data categories as well.
When evaluating just the initial release of the 11 Star Wars movies, we found they hold an average review score of 76% across our three sources. Additionally, we found that initial releases of these films have earned $4.7 billion at the American box office, which amounts to over $7.3 billion when adjusted for inflation. That means the average Star Wars film earned over $427 million at the box office, or $668 million when adjusted for inflation.
Of course, the initial releases are not the only times these movies have been in theaters. To account for the money made by the various re-releases, we also made the above chart that includes the same data but accounts for every single time a Star Wars movie was released or re-released in U.S. theaters.
All told there have been 21 different theatrical releases of different properties in the Star Wars film franchise, with those movies earning over $5 billion across the various releases. This amounts to over $7.9 billion after inflation. While that number is a slightly bigger overall haul than the initial releases, it is spread across a much greater number of releases. Because of that, the average box office earnings per movie dips significantly, dropping to “just” $252 million per release, or $396 million after inflation.
Star Wars movie stats
In the course of researching this piece our team found and calculated several other fun tidbits relating to the Star Wars film franchise that we wanted to highlight:
- The average Star Wars movie has a run time of 136 minutes
- Average ticket price for a Star Wars movie, only counting initial releases: $6.33; adjusted for inflation: $9.01
- Average ticket price for a Star Wars movie, including rereleases: $5.79; adjusted for inflation: $8.67
- The total amount of money someone would have spent seeing every single Star Wars movie in theaters, only counting initial releases: $69.66; adjusted for inflation: $99.15
- The total amount of money someone would have spent seeing every single Star Wars movie in theaters, including rereleases: $115.78; adjusted for inflation: $173.36
- The estimated total number of tickets sold to see Star Wars movies in U.S. movie theaters, only counting initial releases: 813,920,179
- That number of tickets is equal to 6.87% of the combined U.S. population from 1977 to 2019, which represents the time between the first and most recent movies releases; it is also 2.44 times the size of the current U.S. population
- It also represents a number greater than the combined Instagram follower counts of Kendal Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and Khloe Kardashian, who have 738 million combined followers.
- The estimated total number of tickets sold to see Star Wars movies in U.S. movie theaters, including rereleases: 888,818,171
- It also represents a number greater than the combined Instagram follower counts of Kendal Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, and Kourtney Kardashian who have 855 million combined followers.
- That number of tickets is equal to 7.50% of the combined U.S. population from 1977 to 2019, which represents the time between the first and most recent movie release; it is also 2.67 times the size of the current U.S. population
- Cost for one share of Disney stock when A New Hope was released in May 1977: $0.73; cost for one share of Disney stock when the market closed on April 15, 2021: $185.93
- The above represents an increase of over 25,000% in stock price, while the stock itself has split three different times (4-for-1, 4-for-1, and 3-for-1).
- That means if someone had invested the same amount of money as it cost to purchase the average ticket to A New Hope in 1977 ($2.23) into buying three shares of Disney stock (at a cost of $2.19) at that time, their investment would have turned into 144 shares worth $27,084.96 by now.
We hope this look at the beloved sci-fi franchise has been informative and entertaining. Whether you plan to celebrate your Star Wars fandom by binge-watching the movies or shows on Disney+, planning your next trip to Galaxy’s Edge, diving into your favorite comics and books set in a galaxy far, far away, or pulling out your favorite toys and collectibles, our team here at FinanceBuzz has just one thing to say: May the force be with you!
Box Office Mojo - number of domestic releases and box office performance for each film
Bureau of Labor Statistics - CPI inflation calculator used to calculate for inflation throughout
IMDB - film scores, run times, release dates
Instagram - Kardashian follower counts as of 4/23/2021
Macrotrends - U.S. population totals from 1977-2019 and 2021
National Association of Theatre Owners - Average cost of a movie ticket by year
Rotten Tomatoes - critic and audience scores
Yahoo! Finance - Disney historical stock price data