Moviegoers poured into North American multiplexes for the hotly anticipated futuristic saga The Hunger Games which obliterated the competition with a jaw-dropping $155M opening weekend shattering records in the process. The PG-13 pic based on the wildly popular young adult novel about a future where teenagers are forced by a totalitarian government to compete in a fight to the death generated the third biggest opening weekend of all-time and the best ever for both a non-sequel and for a non-summer release. The only two bigger debuts were last summer’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 with $169.2M including 3D surcharges and 2008’s The Dark Knight with $158.4M. Both of those were released by Warner Bros. on the same mid-July weekend when all students were out of school. Landing in 4,137 theaters, Games averaged a scorching $37,467 per theater and was helped by 268 higher-priced IMAX venues.
The previous record-holder for best non-summer opening was The Twilight Saga: New Moon with $142.8M in November 2009. Johnny Depp’s Alice in Wonderland, a 3D pic, held both records for top March and non-sequel debuts with $116.1M two years ago. Hunger Games easily smashed that mark. And in just two days, the Katniss pic matched the top-grossing film in Lionsgate history which was 2004’s controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 with $119.2M. The Michael Moore film wasn’t even originally slated for release by the company as it was with Miramax and Disney which the Weinstein brothers then had to bring over to Lionsgate and IFC Films for the release.
Delivering this much business in the spring is nothing short of amazing. The Hunger Games movie followed more than a year of build up with fans getting hyped up for the movie event of the year thanks to all types of carefully scheduled marketing. Lionsgate involved fans all along the way and this weekend was the payoff. And it will be a lucrative film as the production budget was only about $75M while the total domestic marketing tab was roughly $45M which is low for a tentpole by big studio standards, but high for Lionsgate which usually involves itself with moderately-budgeted films. Although it is too early to really tell, the odds of cracking the $300M domestic mark are certainly in its favor.
Critics and audiences both gave great marks to Hunger. Reviews were mostly positive and the CinemaScore grade was a solid A. Even though films based on popular book franchises like this tend to drop heavy, this one may hold up well for a gargantuan of its kind. Part of the reason Hunger was able to open better than every Twilight film was that it had more male appeal. Studio research showed that 61% of the crowd was female as opposed to the 80% seen by the Bella Swan chapters. The male share was twice as big. Those over 25 made up 56% of the audience so a broad age range was reached. A red hot 2012 box office also contributed as people were seeing trailers, posters and standees in theaters over the past couple of months boosting awareness and excitement and the momentum certainly helped this weekend surge with all audience segments.
The historic debut started off with $68M on Friday including $19.7M from Thursday’s post-midnight shows. That was the fifth best opening day and seventh highest midnights ever with only Harry Potter and Twilight sequels ranking higher. Obsessed book fans have intense demand to see film adaptations upfront and at the earliest possible show but often also see them again before the weekend is over. Saturday fell by 25% to $51M while Sunday is estimated to slide by 29% to $36M. Final grosses to be reported on Monday will show how close it comes to the estimate. At this dizzying height there is sure to be some change in the final gross.
Being a global phenomenon, The Hunger Games also saw impressive results overseas this weekend although the figures were not as eye-popping as they were in the U.S. The overseas launch in 67 markets delivered an estimated $59.3M for a worldwide opening weekend of $214.3M. Leading the way was Australia with $9.7M, the United Kingdom with $7.5M, and Russia with $6.5M.
The next film in the franchise, Catching Fire, will reunite the cast and director Gary Ross and is currently slated for release on November 22 of next year in a slot that worked wonders for many of the Twilight and Potter films being a week before the busy Thanksgiving holiday.
Despite the arrival of the new juggernaut, last week’s top film 21 Jump Street held up remarkably well dipping only 41% to an estimated $21.3M even though much of its young adult audience overlaps with Hunger Games. There were no other major comedies in the marketplace and strong word-of-mouth had been spreading all week. The Sony remake has taken in a terrific $71.1M in just ten days and could be headed for $120-130M which would be rock solid for a film that cost $42M to produce. Street has collected $16M from 14 international territories with Australia and the U.K. accounting for most of the total thanks to strong legs in each market.
Universal’s popular Dr. Seuss toon The Lorax fared well by playing to kids too young for a fight-to-the-death flick. The 3D pic collected an estimated $13.1M in its fourth frame, off just 42%, boosting the 24-day cume to a robust $177.3M. Lorax still stands as 2012’s top-grossing domestic movie but will be shoved aside within days by Hunger Games. International markets have contributed $21.3M early in the overseas run for a worldwide take of $198.6M so far. Most major countries will open the film right before Easter school holidays.
Continuing its financial collapse, the sci-fi epic John Carter tumbled 63% in its third outing suffering the worst drop for any film in the top ten. Disney has grossed just $62.3M in 17 days domestically with the Mars flick and should end with only $70M or so. Grosses are higher overseas, but still not good enough to justify its enormous production cost of more than $250M. The overseas take this weekend fell 46% to $22.2M boosting the international total to $172.1M, or 73% of the $234.4M worldwide tally. Although Japan’s debut is still ahead, the final global gross does not seem likely to go too much higher than $300M with Disney only getting a part of that amount back into its hands – not nearly enough to cover production and marketing costs.
The rest of the films in the top ten carved out very slim slices of the box office pie. The military actioner Act of Valor dropped 45% to an estimated $2.1M for a $65.9M cume for Relativity. The low-budget Warner Bros. hit Project X followed with an estimated $2M, off 52%, and a $51.8M total. The Eddie Murphy flop A Thousand Words laughed up an estimated $1.9M after declining by 47%. Paramount’s modest collection stands at just $14.9M.
The new faith-based drama October Baby landed in the top ten thanks in part to competing films generating such low grosses this weekend. The PG-13 tale of a young woman trying to find the birth mother who almost aborted her bowed to an estimated $1.7M from 390 theaters for a lackluster $4,405 average. On any other weekend this year, the gross would not have been enough to crack the top ten.
A pair of big grossers from February rounded out the top ten. The Denzel Washington hit Safe House fell 49% to an estimated $1.4M while the Warner Bros. adventure sequel Journey 2: The Mysterious Island featuring Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson took in the same amount after dropping 43%. Cumes are $122.6M and $97.2M, respectively.
The critically acclaimed Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption locked up a strong debut in limited release with an estimated $221,000 from only 14 theaters for a $15,786 average. Sony Classics will expand the brutally violent cop film each Friday over the next three weeks which will take it into nationwide play by mid-April. The aggressive release should help build a new movie brand as Sony corporate cousin Screen Gems will be producing the American remake.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $204.8M which was up a whopping 96% from last year when Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules opened in the top spot with $23.8M; and up a staggering 81% from 2010 when How To Train Your Dragon debuted at number one with $43.7M.
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