Weekend Box Office: More Than An Appetizer, The Hunger Games Scores Third-Best Opening Weekend Ever With $155 Million

Put me in the game, Coach. I can play.

We knew going into the weekend that The Hunger Games was going to dominate and make mincemeat out of its competition. But $155 million? Not even Lionsgate, its distributor saw that coming. The opening weekend total was enough to place it third behind The Dark Knight and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 for the greatest opening in history. It’s also the highest opening for a non-sequel; it’s closest competitor is eight spots down in eleventh – Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland with $116 million. The fans of the books were there in droves, but so were the non-readers. But the anticipation was so strong that it didn’t matter that the The Hunger Games lacked the same readership of the Harry Potter or Twilight novels. A full-on advertising assault with news, web and television coverage gave it tha appearance that the novels were just as popular as those other two properties. And like that, over the course of three days, Lionsgate had its highest domestic earner off all time and Hollywood had its first genuine blockbuster of 2012.

The biggest factor in calculating its success was just who was attending. It wasn’t just one particular demographic. Lionsgate pushed the film for both males and females, and was smart to downplay the romance in advertisements in favor to the action. Oh, and it didn’t even need 3D to bolster it’s bottom line unlike that Potter fella.

The fallout from the film’s first weekend is likely going to mean that Gary Ross will get his pick of the litter of projects, or even get the chance to direct something he’s had simmering on the backburner. Casting agents and producers will no doubt be calling Jennifer Lawrence’s people trying to coerce her into reading their scripts. The same for Josh Hutcherson as well. Hutcherson, who earlier this year appeared in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a family film that has gone on to gross more than $300 million worldwide, elevates the expected third installment in the Journey series.

As for the rest of this weekend’s top 10, 21 Jump Street managed the brunt of The Hunger Games storm and only suffered a 41% drop in attendance, earning $21.3 million. In terms of costs vs. earnings, a sequel is all but guaranteed at this point. The Lorax finished its fourth week strong and will get to keep the honor of being this year’s biggest domestic performer for a few more days before Katniss kills that Lorax dead.

If you’re wondering about John Carter, he and some of the Disney executives have gone into witness relocation. Pity. What could have been a franchise starter for Disney ends up being Cowboys & Aliens bad financially for the studio. Maybe more so. You can blame it’s underperformance on its advertising and its inability to make audiences give a damn about a Confederate soldier now space adventurer. Or maybe it should go to director Andrew Stanton who is used to commanding computer-animated objects first and foremost.

Act of Valor is still hanging around the top 5 in its fifth weekend, though I’m wondering how much longer it will be in the top 10. If I had to guess I’d say until mid April. Then expect the home video release around Independence Day. Project X opened strong and has quickly been making its way down the top ten. It will still finish around $55 million making it a win for the studio.

New release October Baby opened at less than 400 locations but made it into the top 10 without much fuss. It’s a Christian-themed release set in the heartland revolving around abortion. Christian films play like crazy at the start as churches have been pushing them with select screenings, early word-of-mouth. But don’t go thinking that just because it is a Christian film means it is a quality release.

Nearing the end of their runs you have A Thousand Words dying a quick death (thank God), yet still playing in 1787 theaters, plus Safe House and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Those last two have performed considerably well. Denzel Washington movies don’t always finish north of nine figures, but the $122 million House has earned ranks second behind American Gangster as his most successful domestic release. And Journey 2, which I touched on above, has made $304 million worldwide due to the addition of Dwayne Johnson. Both Johnson and Josh Hutcherson have confirmed to a sequel, and should a sequel take off sometime in 2014, it will still have The Hunger Games and possibly Fast and Furious 6 as momentum.

And for limited releases, the Indonesian actioner The Raid: Redemption managed $221k from 14 locations. Having played to rave reviews at TIFF 2011 and this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, expect Sony Pictures Classics to give this a great big expansion in the coming weeks. I know I’ll be seeing it again.

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Source: Box Office Mojo