We all knew "The Hunger Games" would debut to enormous opening-weekend numbers, but few could have predicted just how quickly the fire would spread.
The YA adaptation opened to an incredible $155 million weekend, passing up "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and "Spider-Man 3" to have the third-highest opening weekend behind "The Dark Knight" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2."
Early predictions had "The Hunger Games" opening at a respectable $70 million, not even half the actual total and in range of this year's "The Lorax," another recent box-office surprise. As the release drew nearer, analysts bumped up the predicted total to a range of $125 million to $130 million. The reason for the initially low prediction lies with another YA series, according to Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations.
"Many people were comparing this to the original 'Twilight' film, which grossed $69 million its opening weekend," Bock said. "Even though the book series was a huge success, many other young adult novels have been translated to film recently and failed to produce the next 'Harry Potter' or 'Twilight,' so, as an unproven commodity, expectations were tempered a bit with 'The Hunger Games.' Even Lionsgate was estimating that the film would debut with a three-day weekend gross of $75 million earlier in the week; they certainly didn't expect it to nearly eclipse that number on opening day."
The strong push out of the gate came from a combination of an aggressive marketing campaign by Lionsgate and groundswell created by fans of Suzanne Collins' best-selling books. Gitesh Pandya of Box Office Guru said it was a precise combination of those key factors that led to such an explosive opening weekend.
"The record opening was driven by the loyal fanbase, which is humongous, along with a carefully crafted marketing push that intrigued them and also drew in new audiences in time for the movie's release," Pandya said. "Marketing was a key component to the massive debut, as the film wasn't over-promoted to the point of repelling people. Lionsgate turned the opening weekend of 'Hunger Games' into the hottest party around and nobody wanted to be left out."
Lionsgate is certainly not wasting any time in trying to repeat the magic of their biggest hit to date. Production on the sequel, "Catching Fire," is scheduled to begin this summer with a release tentatively set for November 2013. Pandya believes the next adventure of Katniss Everdeen could even go bigger.
"Studios knew to stay out of the way of 'Hunger Games,' which is why no other film opened wide this weekend. But now they know how big of a juggernaut it is, and if history is any indicator, the opening of 'Catching Fire' will be even bigger in November 2013," Pandya said. "And unless Disney changes its superhero date, we're going to see a big-brother battle as Liam Hemsworth's 'Catching Fire' will open just one week after Chris Hemsworth's 'Thor 2.' "
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