Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

One expected blockbuster, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," easily matched expectations with a record gross for the season of $161 million, while the next tentpole up, Disney's animated musical "Frozen," took in nearly $270,000 on a single Los Angeles screen in advance of its national rollout next pre-holiday Wednesday.

But "Catching Fire" took a chunk out of the box office of other films that had been doing well; they sustained bigger than usual drops, because of stiff competition but many also lost holdover dates or complete show schedules as theaters worked overtime to provide maximum screens and seating for the "Hunger Games" sequel. Beyond the damage to the top 10, the toll was also heavy on Lionsgate's other release "Ender's Game" and Sony's "Captain Phillips," both of which lost more dates than normal. And with Disney's "Frozen" now set to grab many more screens and grab strong business this week, the bloodbath will only intensify.


Total business for the Top 10 was $217 million, most of it from "Catching Fire," an increase from $199 million a year ago, which because of calendar shifting was Thanksgiving weekend. Disturbingly, year-to-date business is down almost 2% compared to 2012, after a sustained period when parity had been reached.

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 75

$161,125,000 in 4,163 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $38,704,000; Cumulative: $161,125,000

A surprisingly strong Saturday, not only due to good word of mouth but an older than expected audience (50% over 25, a demographic more likely to go out later in the weekend) propelled the second "Hunger Games" entry into record territory. This is the (unadjusted for inflation) biggest opening gross for any film not opening in May or July, and it achieved this with standard 2-D presentation and a nearly 2.5 hour length. It also, more significantly, bettered the first entry (by about $6 million).

Though it fell a bit short of the high-end of domestic expectations -- which included possibly topping "Iron Man 3" as the top 2013 opener -- it did sell more tickets overall (the Marvel/Disney film had a boost from 3-D), and best of all for Lionsgate, the foreign take is showing a big jump from last time. It took in $146 million overseas, with the full worldwide total now at $307,700,000 million (Brazil opened a week early). This is significant, since "Hunger Games" was the rare blockbuster with foreign grosses below domestic ($283 vs. $408 million).

These totals more than justify the expense ($130 million before marketing, high for a non-summer release, but still thrifty for this level of project). As with the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" series, this has producer (Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik) but not director Francis Lawrence replaced Gary Ross as director) continuity. Lawrence, a Grammy-winning video director, has had commercial success ("I Am Legend") and has committed to the next two sequels This is clearly a tentpole series made with care and smarts.

What comes next: Timed perfectly to hold well going into the strong holiday period ahead, this might not outgross the first entry domestically (grosses for all films will drop sharply after next Sunday), but this still is a terrific opening by any standards, more so with the stronger international take.

2. Thor: The Dark World (Buena Vista) Week 3 - Last weekend #1

$14,117,000 (-61%)in 3,713 theaters (-128); PSA: $3,802; Cumulative: $167,837,000

"Catching Fire" stole "Thor"'s thunder this weekend, but the collapse was hardly total, as the latest Marvel entry held on to second place and positioned itself to overtake the initial film's U.S. gross by next weekend. But domestic is the smaller part of the story. Through this weekend, the rest of the world (with Japan not set to open until next year) is already up to $381 million, for a combined total of $549 million so far. In other words, with lots more to come, even with a $170 million budget, a significant success, if not close to the high end of past Marvel movies.

What comes next: This will easily pass $200 million domestic and could hit $700 million total worldwide.

3. The Best Man Holiday (Universal) Week 2 - Last weekend #2

$12,500,000 (-58%) in 2,041 theaters (+17); PSA: $6,135; Cumulative: $50,400,000

This comedy received an extraordinary A+ Cinemascore last weekend, which usually suggests good word of mouth and a great hold ahead. Instead, despite the absence of direct demographic competition, this took an unexpectedly big fall. The gross is strong enough to get this through the holiday, where it should stabilize and realize the promise of a decent profit the initial weekend suggested.

What comes next: Universal already fast-tracked the next sequel with director-writer Malcolm Lee this past week.