Weekend Box Office: 'Hunger Games' Scores Third Highest Opening In Box Office History With Massive $155 Million Haul

Box Office
by Gabe Toro
March 25, 2012 12:30 PM
9 Comments
  • |

Who’s hungry? “The Hunger Games” proceeded to predictably beat the stuffing out of the box office, scoring $155 million, the third highest opening weekend in history, and highest for a non-sequel. The fan base came out in full force, no doubt, but so did the normals, as the books don’t (yet) have nearly the support of “Harry Potter” or “Twilight.” But make no mistake, this property had a similar groundswell of opinion, including an ad blitz and news and web coverage suggesting this was the “good” version of those pre-existing properties. Within three days, Lionsgate has their highest grossing domestic release of all time, and Hollywood’s strongest new franchise. Because everyone secretly loves child murder.

Fans were notably pleased, as the picture registered an ‘A’ Cinemascore, which shifted to an ‘A+’ for younger demographics. While there’s no full demo breakdown, it’s likely much of this audience were males, as Lionsgate made the wise decision to push the film with both sexes, downplaying the romantic angle in ads in favor of the action and political intrigue. All this without the benefit of 3D too. “Harry Potter” was a wuss.

Naturally, everyone’s status skyrockets. This lands Gary Ross squarely on the directorial A-List, and he’s already slated to start “Catching Fire” soon. If that film performs to expectations (i.e. “God-mode”), expect Ross to land on a level slightly above Jon Favreau post-”Iron Man” -- significantly more handcuffed to the source material of his own franchise, but with an Oscar nominee (“Seabiscuit”) on his resume. Jennifer Lawrence should also likely expect to see a flood of A-List offers coming her way, as this easily catapults her above her peers. However, it doesn’t push Josh Hutcherson anywhere, which is too bad considering he’s five foot nothing.

Interesting to see what theories emerge regarding the film’s sociological angle. “Twilight” didn’t do feminist theorists any favors, while “Harry Potter” only seemed to make the world safer for laser battles. “The Hunger Games,” however, is a big-budget blockbuster centered around the used-to-be-taboo idea of children murdering each other for the enjoyment of adults. On the page that registers as satire, but it's impossible to forget that Lionsgate and the filmmaking team is trying to make the same satirical points by actually filming sequences of mass child murder with the same attitude as any current action blockbuster. With a three-day take like this, society notices. How will they respond?

Meanwhile, back on Earth… “21 Jump Street” stunningly stayed afloat despite a similarly youth-centric appeal to 'Hunger Games,' losing less than half its audience from the big opening weekend. The film didn’t break the bank for Sony, and thanks to a spectacular marketing effort, they’re looking a sequel right in the eye. “The Lorax” held strong, spending possibly its last week as the year’s biggest domestic performer, though there’s still a strong outside chance it hits $200 million.

“The Hunger Games” took a huge bite out of several movies this weekend, but none took it harder than “John Carter.” The sci-fi family flick, which opened to less than a fifth of what “The Hunger Games” has pulled in thus far, was originally looking to save face and possibly limp to $100 million domestically, but that looks near impossible right about now. Disney recently admitted in a press release what many expected them to say while drowning in beer at the Billionaires’ Bar: $200 million are the expected losses from the film’s underperformance. Most within the company are eager to blame the film on the last regime, but this showing reflects poorly on just about everyone.

With “The Hunger Games” being the only top release of the weekend, it allowed “Act of Valor” to spend its surprising fifth weekend in the top five at the box office, though it’s clearly tapped out. “Project X” is also hanging around, with both of them expected to reach numbers of $70 and $55 million, respectively; big wins for both, though 'X' was notably top-heavy. What was surprising was the little release that came up behind them.

October Baby” opened at only 390 locations but it was able to break into the top ten with ease, even though it wasn’t on anybody’s radar. The heartland drama concerns a well-to-do young white teenage girl who finds out her parents “rescued” her from her true mother, who was set to have an abortion instead. The Christian-themed fantasy movie was initially released last fall in thirteen theaters as propaganda supporting a bullshit “personhood” ballot, but Samuel Goldwyn Films purchased the independent release and employed a stronger strategy to get the film out there to audiences who understand that Christian films equal quality!

A slow death for everything else in the top ten, as “A Thousand Words” is actually still playing at 1,787 mostly empty theaters. “Safe House” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” are also finishing up their business, both as strong possibly over-performing hits. They were good bets for some action fans, Indonesian actioner “The Raid: Redemption,” though in limited release, capitalized on its buzz with $221k at fourteen locations, averaging a little under $16k per engagement. Sony Pictures Classics is planning a more ambitious-than-usual expansion, so expect that number to grow by leaps and bounds.

In other indie news, "The Deep Blue Sea" grossed $120k at twenty-nine theaters, though its per-screen was topped by a couple of holdovers. "Salmon Fishing In the Yemen" has steadily expanded, grabbing a strong $700k at 124 locations, confidently doubled from last weekend's sixty-two engagements. Documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" got a solid bump moving from six to twenty-seven locations with a $180k take, while "Footnote" took a strong step upwards with $164k at twenty four theaters. Pity poor "Musical Chairs," which debuted on nine screens and only managed a little over $9k. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.

1. Child Murder (Lionsgate) - $155 million
2. 21 Jump Street (Sony) - $21.3 million ($71 mil.)
3. Dr. Seuss Is Watching You Defile His Legacy (Universal) - $13.1 million ($177 mil.)
4. That Super-Expensive Disney Movie That No One Liked (Disney) - $5 million ($62 mil.)
5. Act Of Valor (Relativity) - $2.1 million ($66 mil.)
6. Project X (WB) - $2 million ($52 mil.)
7. A Thousand Words (Paramount) - $1.9 million ($15 mil.)
8. October Baby (Samuel Goldwyn) - $1.7 million ($1.9 mil.)
9. Safe Wings Hauser (Universal) - $1.4 million ($123 mil.)
10. Journey 2: The Other Josh Hutcherson Movie (WB) - $1.4 million ($97 mil.)

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

9 Comments

  • anon | March 26, 2012 12:10 PMReply

    I saw The Hunger Games last night and was slightly disappointed. And this is from the standpoint of going into it not expecting much (I'd read the books and thought they were ok). To me, there was too little character development (insofar as I didn't particularly care whether anyone died) and too much shaky cam (I like The Playlist note that Ross could take a page out of Soderbergh's handbook regarding action scenes... I may have read that somewhere else though).

    In any case after watching the movie it made me think about why The Hunger Games is becoming such a huge success whereas a couple weeks ago, John Carter was such a tremendous flop. There are all the obvious reasons including marketing, the already existing fanbase from the books, etc., but in the end, I'd easily argue that John Carter was the better movie. At least I enjoyed it a little more than The Hunger Games (the dog was great in John Carter, can't think of anyone in The Hunger Games I liked more than that dog). Just thought it was interesting how two big budget movies opening in the same month could have drastically different box office results and that it would be an interesting discussion.

  • Mike | March 26, 2012 12:32 PM

    The budgets are also drastically different, The Hunger Games only cost $78m & they spent around $45m on marketing & distribution. That's less than half of the around $350m Disney spent total on John Carter.

  • Mike | March 25, 2012 9:43 PMReply

    To be fair, even with 3D Deathly Hallows sold millions more tickets, which isn't surprising, but the 'Harry Potter was a wuss' comment was hardly fitting. If they handle the sequels well this could handily top that opening record, but the Potter franchise is still something the world will never see again. The book sales of Twilight, The Hunger Games, and any # of wannabe franchises are dwarfed by Potter's, it practically doubled it's theatrical gross with home video #'s every time out and managed to consistently make around $900m nearly every year for a decade, that kind of consistency or level of gross is unheard of. Most franchises lose box office steam after 3. In all the brand was said to have raked in $15 billion, and that number is from mid-2008. I'm not here as some Harry Potter nut, just giving perspective to those that want to crown Hunger Games as more impressive. Though it seems it will likely win out as the franchise that most converted non-readers given the number of readers being so much lower and that this movie has already gotten a lot of mainstream attention this weekend that will surely only grow as the word of mouth solidifies in coming weeks.

  • Jess | March 25, 2012 3:25 PMReply

    Oh yes @Fellow, rape jokes are high-larious! I didn't think Josh Hutcherson was that bad! Of course I would have preferred to see more of Liam Hemsworth, but that's for a completely different reason. I'd like to think Josh has a lot of potential and could have a future as a good actor. I also wouldn't mind hearing what's so impractical about that...

  • mpbstereo | March 25, 2012 2:14 PMReply

    I posted this earlier on another website...

    ****spoiler alert****

    This story involves kids who get their necks snapped, die of poisoning, get stabbed and bled out, take spears to gut and arrows to the chest, get munched on by wild dogs, etc.. Ross, to his credit, handles this well, minimizing the violence but maximizing the pain, and Collins contextualizes all this in the absurdity of the games, as well as in the service of social commentary.

    This gets a PG-13 rating, but Bully, which features a few kids spouting off profanity (as most of us either did or heard at that age) gets an R rating???

    That seems just as wrong to me as the concept of picking 24 kids and putting them in an arena to kill each other.

  • PapushiSun | March 25, 2012 1:05 PMReply

    Hutcherson was easily the weakest link in the film. And he has a huge head. Screw him.

  • fivefootseven | March 25, 2012 12:56 PMReply

    whoa. harsh dig at Josh Hutcherson's height. You should at least explain why the success won't benefit him.

  • fellow | March 25, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    i better write my screenplay for Rape Games quickly, Americans will eat it up

  • Rebecca | March 25, 2012 1:02 PM

    @fellow. You're not funny.

Email Updates