Bollywood beats Star Wars at UAE box office

Much-anticipated 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' feels the force of Shah Rukh Khan smash
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The seventh instalment in the Star Wars movie franchise is on course to become the biggest box office movie of all time, with a massive worldwide haul of over $1.5 billion.

However, despite some of the early scenes in the Hollywood blockbuster film being shot in the UAE desert in Abu Dhabi, the massively hyped Walt Disney sci-fi has been overshadowed at the local box office by a musical comedy starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

'Dilwale' – meaning The Big Hearted in Hindi – was released on December 17th, the same day as 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens', and it has drawn massive crowds in cinemas across the UAE.

The musical, which tells the story of a couple who strive to overcome the violent conflict between their two families, attracted 310,607 Bollywood fans in its first week on release in the UAE, according to official data.

The Rohit Shetty-directed film was shown in 52 packed UAE cinema screens and earned Dhs11,375,845 ($3,097,195) in its first seven days.

Released on the same day and backed by an exclusive regional premiere at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace, the much-anticipated 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' was shown in 144 screen across the UAE, nearly three times as many as its Bollywood rival.

Despite this, it attracted just 184,619 cinema fans, earning it Dhs10,281,456 in its first week and the second spot on the weekly box office rankings.

On a per screen basis, Star Wars earned an average of just Dhs1,282 during its first week. This was compared to Dilwale’s average of Dhs5,973 per screen. Star Wars was also beaten by another new Bollywood release, Bajirao Mastani, starring Priyanka Chopra, which earned an average of Dhs2,181 from 48 screens.

As a result, the number of screens dedicated to the new Star Wars movie in its second week on release was reduced by more than a third to 91. At the end of the second week, 'Dilwale' again held the top spot in terms of it's total actual attendees, soaring to 421,062, while Star Wars’ fortnightly tally was 278,980. However, the Hollywood film’s wider release and more expensive 3D tickets meant it just nudged ahead in terms of overall earnings.

After two weeks of release, 'Dilwale' has earned Dhs15,479,333, while Star Wars has taken in Dhs15,518,164. The Shah Rukh Khan movie has proven to be popular across the Gulf, with Box Office India declaring that it smashed all records in the region, becoming the first Bollywood film to cross $3 million in one weekend on release.

John Chahine, general manager at Dubai-based distribution firm Italia Film, told Arabian Business the results were not surprising as he claimed the Star Wars franchise has never been hugely popular among cinema fans. However, he said the interest generated from the fact some scenes were filmed in Abu Dhabi meant the seventh instalment was the most popular in the series.

Chahine stated that the previous six Star Wars movies, which were under the control of series creator George Lucas, had a combined total attendance at UAE cinemas of less than 150,000. However, the seventh movie, the first since Lucas sold the rights to Disney for $4 billion, has attracted a total of over 300,000 admissions during its first 18 days on release in the UAE.

This is five times more than the previous Star Wars film – 2005’s 'Episode III: Revenge of the Sith' - and more than double the previous six Star Wars films combined, Chahine claimed.

Bollywood films may have dominated at UAE cinemas, this has not been the cast worldwide. While Dilwale has earned $32 million globally, Star Wars is on course to earn $1,510,765,583 worldwide and is predicted to overtake James Cameron’s Avatar, which is currently the biggest selling film of all time, with a global haul of $2.78 billion.

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