The Hunger Games gorges on $214 million global debut

The massive U.S. and Canadian debut for the film ranked behind only last summer’s Harry Potter finale and 2008 Batman movie The Dark Knight,according to producers LionsGate Studios.

Written by Reuters | Published: April 6, 2012 1:44:47 pm

Post-apocalyptic action movie The Hunger Games opened with a staggering $155 million at U.S. and Canadian box-offices,beating Hollywood’s lofty expectations and making history as the third-highest domestic film opening. Internationally,the Lions Gate Entertainment drama about an oppressive society’s teen death match added $59.3 million from 67 markets for a global haul of $214.3 million.

The massive U.S. and Canadian debut for the film ranked behind only last summer’s Harry Potter finale and 2008 Batman movie The Dark Knight,Lions Gate said. The movie’s success brings the first blockbuster franchise to Lions Gate,a smaller Hollywood studio best known previously for the Saw horror series and

comedian Tyler Perry’s films.

The Hunger Games set records for highest opening of a non-sequel film and biggest debut outside the summer blockbuster season. “The first movie in a franchise,to post a number like this,is really insane. There is no other word for it,” said Phil Contrino,editor of Boxoffice.com.

“Harry Potter had seven movies before it got to that point,and Dark Knight had years and years of building the Batman brand. This movie comes and hangs with them in the same league,” Contrino said.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 opened with $169.2 million domestically over its opening weekend,while Dark Knight took in $158.4 million,according to Hollywood.com. Hunger Games is an action-filled survival drama based on the first of three best-selling young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen,a teen girl who fights in a televised battle-to-the-death ordered by her society’s rulers. Everdeen becomes a beacon of hope for freedom against the totalitarian government. LionsGate executives got a sense of the huge appetite for The Hunger Games when they ventured with director Gary Ross and producer Nina Jacobson to the ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood last week ahead of the first screenings just after midnight.

Fans packed the lobby for showings on multiple screens,with many of the book’s devotees dressed as characters. Similar scenes occurred across the country. Executives went to bed thinking the film would finish the weekend with about $140 million domestically. But sales held up stronger than expected,dropping just 25 per cent instead of the typical 40 per cent or more over consecutive days. “To launch a franchise like this is incredible. It’s above and beyond our expectations,” David Spitz,executive vice-president of domestic distribution for LionsGate,said. “We’re just going to enjoy the ride.” Going into the weekend,industry forecasters projected about $125 million in domestic receipts. Box-office watchers compared the movie’s drawing power to the Twilight vampire romance films,another franchise based on popular young adult books.

The Hunger Games blew past the domestic debuts for each of the first four Twilight films,which LionsGate now owns after buying Summit Entertainment in January. The Hunger Games rung up an average of $37,467 at 4,137 domestic locations over last weekend. Audiences applauded the film adaptation of the book,giving the movie an “A” grade on average in polling by survey firm CinemaScore.

The Hunger Games appealed to more adults and more males than Twilight,which banked a large chunk of its receipts from teenage girls,Contrino said. Fifty-six per cent of The Hunger Games audience was over age 25,and 39 per cent was male. The movie cost about $80 million to produce after tax credits. The studio pre-sold distribution rights in foreign markets other than Britain to cut its cost to about $30 million. That reduced the risk but also limited the money LionsGate will get from overseas sales.

SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING DRIVE

To reach the film’s core audience of younger viewers,the movie’s $45 million marketing budget made aggressive use of the Internet,including a game on Facebook,YouTube videos and a blog on the site Tumblr dedicated to the film’s fashion.

Anticipation built among fans and on Wall Street,where LionsGate shares jumped nearly 33 per cent in the six weeks leading up to the film’s Friday opening. Shares rose from $10.95 on February 8 to $14.53 on March 23. Toy companies also are trying to score big off the movie. Teen retailer Hot Topic Inc said last week it had sold out some Hunger Games merchandise. Hasbro Inc and Mattel Inc also have licenses to market toys based on Hunger Games. To win the rights to make the film,LionsGate beat out bigger and better funded rivals with personal appeals to Collins beginning in 2009. At the same time,LionsGate was simultaneously fending off investor Carl Icahn,who took a 33 per cent stake in LionsGate and launched an unsuccessful proxy fight to elect five board members to the studio’s board of directors. Icahn bailed out on LionsGate in August 2011,selling his 44 million shares for $7 apiece and losing out on a $331 million profit based on Lions Gate’s closing stock price on Friday.

Elsewhere this weekend,Hunger Games had little competition at the domestic box-office. No other new movies were released nationwide.

Comedy 21 Jump Street took second place for the weekend with $21.3 million,and animated Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax finished third with $13.1 million.

Rounding out the top five,Disney sci-fi adventure John Carter pulled in $5.0 million,and military drama Act Of Valor grossed $2.1 million.

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