Star Wars has paid off for Disney.
After five years and three blockbuster films, Disney’s Star Wars movies have earned more at the box office than the company paid for all of Lucasfilm.
Disney bought the studio behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones for $4 billion in cash and stock in 2012. As of Jan. 1, the first three Star Wars films under the Disney banner—The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi—brought in nearly $4.2 billion worldwide, combined, based on Box Office Mojo estimates.
The latter is still in theaters. It had mixed reception from fans, which could dampen its overall box-office run compared to the $2 billion that The Force Awakens brought in globally in 2015. But The Last Jedi has already topped $1 billion worldwide, which is a tidy return, no matter how you look at it.
Of course, not all those box-office receipts are profit. Each movie had an estimated production budget of $200 million or more, and robust marketing campaigns.
But that box-office gross also doesn’t account for the revenue Disney earns from Star Wars home-video releases, movie licensing deals, Star Wars TV shows, Star Wars theme-park experiences, toys, and other consumer products. In 2015, sales of Star Wars merchandise boosted Disney’s earnings before its first Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, even hit theaters.
The 1970s science-fantasy franchise is more valuable than ever with Disney’s distribution machine, which includes global theatrical distribution, TV networks, theme parks, consumer products, and soon, streaming services. Disney and Lucasfilm expanded the film franchise to include standalone films such as Rogue One and the upcoming movie Solo, in addition to the saga films. And a new trilogy from director Rian Johnson, who helmed The Last Jedi, will follow the current saga story.
All this has driven Disney’s studio standing to new heights. Disney was the top grossing studio in the world, with more than $6 billion in returns in 2016 and 2017, thanks to Star Wars, as well as the Marvel movies, live-action reboots of classic Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, and new animated movies such as Zootopia and Coco. It’s the only studio to cross that mark two years in a row.
This milestone comes after Disney—a master acquirer—agreed to buy the rival media conglomerate 21st Century Fox, including many of its movie and TV assets.