By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - British "Star Wars" fans snapped up tens of thousands of tickets on Monday for "The Force Awakens," hours before advance bookings are due to open in the United States.
Although Disney is keeping the plot of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" under wraps until the Dec. 18 release, British movie theater chains reported record business for advance tickets, underscoring projections that the movie will take in about $2 billion globally.
"It's been our busiest day ever for online bookings in the UK," British cinema chain Odeon said in a statement, acknowledging that some customers experienced booking delays.
British chain Vue Entertainment said it had sold 10,000 tickets within the first 90 minutes, with some customers facing issues purchasing online.
Tickets for U.S. screenings of "The Force Awakens" are due to go on sale on Monday night, after Walt Disney Co debuts a trailer on sports channel ESPN during halftime of the NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.
The movie, which brings back actors Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher who starred in the original 1977 film, is expected to gross about $100 million in North America alone on its opening weekend, Rentrak's senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said.
He said the film could earn over $2 billion globally, putting it with the world's two biggest-grossing movies, "Avatar" and "Titanic."
"This is maybe the most anticipated movie of the last 10 years," Dergarabedian said.
"Star Wars," created by filmmaker George Lucas, has grossed more than $4.4 billion globally since 1977 with six films. "The Force Awakens", directed by J.J. Abrams, is the first of three new "Star Wars" movies being produced by Disney since it purchased the franchise from Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.05 billion.
Fans have seen two teasers: November's 88-second trailer and April's 2-minute trailer, which showcased a new cast of characters led by newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. Disney has buffered the film's release with strategically timed events such as April's Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California, and May's "May The 4th Be With You" Star Wars day.
"Disney has done a very good job of keeping the ebb and flow of their marketing and information at just the right pace," Dergarabedian said.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bernard Orr)