Forget Box Office: Which “Star Wars” Movie Was Seen By The Most People?

A data-driven infographic breaks down each movie by population and number of tickets sold for an accurate read of each film’s popularity.

Forget Box Office: Which “Star Wars” Movie Was Seen By The Most People?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015

The force awoke this past year, indeed.


The seventh official Star Wars film came out in late December and went on to make nearly a billion dollars just in the U.S. With so much riding on the franchise’s continuation, director JJ Abrams delivered a cross-generational crowd-pleaser that brought fans out in unheard-of numbers. That statement isn’t entirely accurate, though. The Force Awakens may hold the record for the all-time highest domestic box office gross, but that doesn’t mean the most people saw it. A new infographic cuts through the question of inflation and reveals exactly how much of the population turned out to see each Star Wars movie.

Usually, talk about adjusted box office gross devolves into matters of ticket prices and the average cost of living at the time Gone With The Wind came out or whatever. This infographic, surfaced by Reddit user pnw_smalls, factors the number of tickets sold for each Star Wars film into the U.S. population at the time of release to show what percentage of the country saw each film. The only flaw in the methodology is that a lot of people went in for multiple viewings–face it, your dad probably saw every Star Wars movie at least five times apiece–and there’s no accounting for that. The results appear to track with the general popularity of each film, though.

Coming in at No. 1 with a whopping 40.8% of the country buying tickets is the original Star Wars. This is in keeping with that film’s game-changing status and the length of time it remained in theaters. (At least 60 theaters kept it playing for a full year!) The first two sequels, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are tied for second, with 30.9% of the population each. It makes sense, considering that Star Wars fever was at its first serious peak during this period.

There’s a downward trajectory with the first two prequels, going from 28% with The Phantom Menace to the series low of 16.3 % for Attack of the Clones. These numbers are fully in keeping with the bad buzz around both films. There’s a slight uptick for Revenge of the Sith, after all, it might have been the final Star Wars film ever, as far as anyone knew at the time. But it wasn’t that much of an uptick, only to 18.1%. Knowing all this history puts the tremendous success of The Force Awakens in perspective. Nearly as much of the U.S. population went out to see it as they did for the original sequels and the first prequel–and that was after those prequels proved just how unexceptional a Star Wars movie could be.

Donnie Yen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2016

With Rogue One, the first side story in the series, coming this winter, it’s an interesting time in the franchise’s rapidly expanding history. And despite reports of reshoots, the future is looking bright.

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.