Star Wars might be one of the biggest film franchises of all time now—but in 1977, few theater owners were interested in screening the adventures of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
So as you walk around today, playing along with the “May the Fourth Be With You” calendar pun that everyone is repeating, maybe take a quiet moment and thank Sidney Sheldon along with George Lucas for all the science fiction memories.
That’s because The Other Side of Midnight, based on Sheldon’s novel, was the film everyone expected to rule the box office that summer. Demand for Midnight was so strong (and demand for Star Wars was so weak), in fact, that officials at 20th Century Fox forced theater owners to take the space saga if they wanted the other film.
It was a different time. Film screenings for theater owners happened at the last minute, so owners had to go on gut instinct. And, on paper, Star Wars didn’t seem too impressive.
“In the months before it opened, a lot of the older guys thought of Star Wars as a kiddie movie,” Erik Lomis, a buyer at the time and now an executive at Annapurna Pictures told The Hollywood Reporter. “The cast meant nothing, and no one knew who George Lucas was. I was working for a circuit called Sameric Theatres in Philadelphia. We thought we got hosed because the competition got the big ‘A track’ picture, The Other Side of Midnight.”
Star Wars, of course, went on to gross $775,398,007 at the worldwide box office, according to Box Office Mojo, an unheard of amount at the time. And it made billions more in sequels, home video sales, and merchandising. The series’ next installment, Solo, is scheduled to open May 25.
The Other Side of Midnight, by the way, went on to make just under $25 million in the summer of 1977, a modest hit, but one that would quickly be forgotten by audiences.