The Hunger Games opened this weekend with a scorching $155 million

By Scott Mendelson

Besting any number of opening weekend records, The Hunger Games (review HERE) opened this weekend with a scorching $155 million. That’s the third-biggest opening weekend of all-time, behind The Dark Knight ($158 million) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II ($169 million). Obviously by virtue of being number 03 on the list, it’s also the biggest opening weekend for a non-summer movie, a non-sequel. It’s of course the biggest debut in history for a film not released by Warner Bros. during the third weekend in July, for those keeping release-date score. It’s also Lionsgate’s highest-grossing film ever after just three days, besting the $123 million-debut of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. While it’s Lionsgate’s most expensive movie, it’s still an example of smart budgeting as it came it at $90 million before tax credits which brought the total exposure to just $78 million. Even if you factor in the hardcore marketing campaign over the last month, Lionsgate is surely in the black or will be by Friday, making everything after this pure profit. There isn’t too much to say because this record debut has been prognosticated to the point of tedium over the last two months, as one tracking report after another continually upped the predicted opening weekend number, to the point where the film would have been called a ‘flop’ if it hadn’t opened with at least $100 million (not by me, mind you). But yeah, Lionsgate pulled some of the best marketing in modern history (teaser/trailer01/trailer02), turning a relatively popular young adult book series into a mainstream media ‘event’, which in turn made the film adaptation into a must-sample event even for audiences who only had token knowledge of the series.

Here’s the breakdown. The film pulled in $19.75 million at midnight on Friday night, and then pulled in $68.3 million on its opening day (the fifth-biggest Friday ever). The film held surprisingly strong on Saturday earning another $51 million, or down 25% from the Friday total but actually up 5% from the $48.5 million that the film earned during normal business hours on Friday. By the way, that non-midnight Friday total was the third-biggest on record, behind The Dark Knight ($48.7 million) and Spider-Man 3 ($49.8 million) and ahead of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II ($43 million at midnight, $47.5 million on normal Friday business hours). Its $51 million Saturday is the second biggest, behind the $51.3 million second day of Spider-Man 3. The film dropped a reasonable 29% on Sunday for a $36 million third day-gross, which is the third biggest on record, behind Shrek the Third ($36.1 million), Spider-Man 3 ($39.9 million), and The Dark Knight ($43.5 million). Obviously these are estimates so it could bounce up or down the various single-day charts when the finals are released on Monday. It earned a 2.27x weekend multiplier, which is generally pretty terrible but a bit above the last few Harry Potter and Twilight sequels, so it seems that it’s now officially in the same league.

Demographics wise, the film earned an A from Cinemascore audience polling, including an A+ from the under-18 set. The film sold 10% ($15.5 million) of its tickets in glorious 2D IMAX. Despite its reputation as a tween/tween-friendly series, the film pulled in 56% over-25 years old. The film played 61% female, which again disabuses the notion that this female-centric action picture played exclusively to women. If you look at the very largest franchises over the last ten years (Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Nolan’s Batman films), they were not merely hardcore guy-friendly films, but rather big-budget genre fare that appealed to men and women equally. There are exceptions (Twilight and Transformers respectively), but the very biggest tentpole success stories were not ‘grr… no girls allowed!’ testosterone fests, which is something Hollywood would do well to realize. Where it finishes in America is an open question of course, although logic would dictate that it end in the same $290-310 million range as most of the Harry Potter or Twilight films.

Okay, if you’ve been reading my sight over the weekend, you’ll remember that I kinda hated the film. So where does that factor into my thoughts about its success? First of all, quality and box office are two separate things, especially over opening weekend. But my deep qualms about the film aside, this is a win on several fronts. Again, it’s a huge win for the idea of female-fronted blockbusters and the concept that females don’t have to be regulated to romantic comedies. But arguably as important, it’s a win for the idea of franchise originality. The Hunger Games was not based on a kids cartoon from the 1980s or a remake of a blockbuster from the 1990s. It was a new literary franchise written specifically for today’s audiences, not revamped/rebooted/regurgitated from another era purely for easier ‘branding’ (essay HERE). My wife, who also has not read the books, wanted to see it specifically because it was something new and something different, and she was excited to walk into the theater not knowing who these characters were and what was going to happen (she didn’t like it anymore than I did, but oh well). As fanboys fume over whether or not the next batch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies are going to be teenage and/or alien, we as moviegoing audiences should encourage, with our box office dollar, new myths for today’s generation. New versus old… that is the triumph of The Hunger Games this weekend and that is why it is worth celebrating no matter what you thought of the film.

There were no other wide releases, although Sony Gems released the acclaimed Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption onto fourteen screens for a $15,000 per-screen average. It expands pretty heavily over the next two weeks (if I can wait until the 6th of April, it will be right next door), so we’ll keep an eye on it. Also in semi-wide release was the reissue of the anti-abortion drama October Baby, which had a 14-screen release last October before being snapped up by Samuel Goldyn and opening in 360 theaters this weekend. It earned $1.8 million this weekend, which is pretty good for such a low-profile release. In holdover news, last weekend’s lone new release 21 Jump Street held strong considering the competition, dropping 41% for a $21 million second weekend. The film has now earned $71 million. The other major Channing Tatum release of 2012, The Vow, now has $122.7 million, meaning it has surpassed The Bodyguard on the list of romantic dramas. It’s now the sixth-biggest romantic drama of all time, and the third (behind An Officer and a Gentleman and Jerry Maguire) that isn’t special effects-intensive (Pearl Harbor, Ghost, and Titanic). John Carter had another terrible weekend, dropping 62% and ending its seventeenth day with $62 million domestic and $234 million worldwide. The Lorax now has $177 million while Act of Valor has $65 million. Project X crossed $50 million and A Thousand Words crossed $15 million. Safe House is at $122 million while Journey 2: The Beginning sits with $97 million and should cross $100 million in a week or so (it’s over $300 million worldwide).

That’s it for this weekend. Next weekend we get Wrath of the Titans (review Wednesday) and the first of two major Snow White films this year, Mirror, Mirror (which my daughter might actually want to see on Friday… gasp!). Until then take care and keep reading.

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memo

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