Star Wars fans are counting down the days to the release of The Force Awakens on December 17, but without a visit and a bet made in Mobile, Alabama, almost 40 years ago, we might not have the movies about the galaxy far, far away.
In 1976, Steven Spielberg shot Close Encounters of the Third Kind in Mobile. It was the follow-up to Jaws and the second hit for Spielberg.
George Lucas shot Star Wars at the same time, but the film wasn’t going well. It was over-budget and production delays pushed back the release date from Christmas 1976 to the summer of 1977.
Lucas didn’t feel good about Star Wars,and during a break in filming he visited Spielberg on the Close Encounters set in Mobile for advice and encouragement. After seeing the elaborate sets in the airport hangar at Brookley Air Force base, Lucas felt that Close Encounters would be more successful than Star Wars and made a bet with Spielberg that would later cost Lucas millions of dollars.
The bet: the filmmakers traded 2.5 percent of the profits for each movie. Lucas was betting that Spielberg’s film would do better at the box office and Spielberg accepted the bet to encourage his friend.
In an interview with Turner Classic Movies, Spielberg says that Lucas was a “nervous wreck” when he visited the set.
“He (Lucas) said, ‘Oh my God, your movie is going to be so much more successful than Star Wars,’” Spielberg says. “‘This is gonna be the biggest hit of all time. I can’t believe this set. I can’t believe what you’re getting. I’ll tell you what. I’ll trade some points with you. I’ll give you 2.5 percent of Star Wars if you give me 2.5 percent of Close Encounters.’”
Spielberg said, “Sure, I’ll gamble with that.’”
Close Encounters made $304 million at the global box office, but Star Wars made $775 million. (Source: Time magazine)
In the interview, Spielberg says he is the happy beneficiary of the bet and still making money on Star Wars today.
Some stories say Spielberg has made more $40 million on the bet, and 40 years later the 7th episode of the Star Wars films sold over $50 million in advance ticket sales and is predicted to be top of the box office once again. Spielberg and Lucas both did well on the bet they made in Mobile.
Another Close Encounters movie fact: the home where Barry is abducted is on Highway 181 in Fairhope.
Cover Photo Wally Fong/AP