By Brian Fuson | Thompson on Hollywood March 25, 2012 at 11:03AM
Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games” wrote a new page in the record books this weekend as the futuristic sci-fi action adventure, based on the first novel of a bestselling trilogy by Suzanne Collins, grossed a staggering $155 million from 4,137 theaters – marking the third-biggest opening in box office history. Only Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” ($169.2 million) and Warner’s “The Dark Knight” ($158.4 million) opened with more on their debut weekend.
The opening for Gary Ross's “Hunger Games” is the largest by far outside of the summer or holiday boxoffice season, topping Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which opened in March of 2010 with $116.1 million. The debut also topped “Alice” to become the best opening of all-time for a non-sequel film.
With a production budget of $80 million, after $20 million in tax credits, and a $45 million marketing campaign, “Hunger Games” is already well on its way to profitability for the studio. Suzanne Collins' trilogy has sold nearly 24 million copies in the U.S. alone and has been translated into 26 languages. The film boasted a Facebook page with nearly 3 million fans, as well as a “Hunger Games” Twitter party hosted by Fandango.
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz lead an ensemble in a story about a dystopian society in which an autocratic government controls its people via the Hunger Games, in which two children from each of 12 Districts (ages 12-18) are chosen by lottery to fight to the death.
The debut for PG-13 rated “Hunger Games” bested most pre-release projections as prognosticators had the film opening with anywhere from $120 million to $150 million. In this case the debut clearly exceeded the most optimistic projections, some of which were fueled by fan frenzy leading up to the record-breaking weekend, as presales of tickets and sold-out shows have become the rule rather than the exception.
Online ticket seller Fandango reported that 22% of all tickets sold for opening weekend were sold by Fandango -- the biggest share ever in the company’s 12-year history. The company also noted that during the weekend’s peak ticket selling period it was selling a frenzied 17 tickets per second which makes “Hunger Games” the company’s the top franchise opener.
As a testament to the coming of age of mobile device ticket purchases, “Hunger Games” set a new Fandango record for the most tickets ever sold on opening weekend via mobile, topping “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.”
The opening day gross on Friday was an estimated $68 million, which was good enough to be notched as the fifth highest single-day gross of all-time, just behind the $68.5 million of Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” which is now Lionsgate's other big franchise, after the recent merger of the two companies. But among non-sequel films, that $68 million was the largest single-day gross ever.
The top single-day gross of all-time is held by “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” with a staggering $91.1 million in one day. But that film was the last film in the hugely lucrative “Harry Potter” series, and like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the finale proved the most potent at the boxoffice as it wrapped up the series. Three “Twilight” films hold the second, third and fourth positions on the list.
That $68-million first day gross includes some $19.7 million from midnight shows, marking the seventh-biggest ever for midnight screenings among all film, but once again it was the highest ever for a non-sequel. That midnight gross put “Hunger Games” ahead of “The Dark Knight’s” $18.5 million, and behind another Warner title, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” which pulled in $22.2 million from midnight shows.
With a sterling Cinemascore of A and upbeat reviews, the first film in the “Hunger Games” trilogy looks to keep theater turnstiles spinning. Those factors combined with a recent Fandango survey of several thousand “Hunger Games” ticket-buyers, in which a solid 62% said they had planned on seeing the film more than once on the big screen, should ensure strong repeat business and make for a long and prosperous run in theaters, boding well for a higher multiple.
The demographic breakdown skewed female with 61%, male 39%, and slightly older: 56% were age 25 or more. That could also portend a strong hold as older filmgoers tend to not go on the first weekend but wait until crowds die down, so there's still more demand with that group.
The 4,137 theaters in which “Hunger Games” launched --with around 10,000 prints-- was the largest ever for Lionsgate. The per-theater average was a stunning $37,467.
On the international front, “Hunger Games” opened in 67 markets and some 7,700 sites to pull in an estimated $59.1 million; it was the top-grossing title in nearly every market it opened. Australia had the largest opening with approximately $9.7 million. The combined worldwide gross to date for “Hunger Games” is a dazzling $214.3 million.
The only other film opening in the top 10 this weekend was IDP/Samuel Goldwyn Films’ “October Baby,” from Provident Films. The indie film opened in the eighth spot with an estimated $1.7 million from only 390 locations, averaging $4,406 per theater – the third-highest in the top 10. The coming of age drama was directed by brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin for roughly $1 million and relied mostly on a word-of-mouth campaign.
As for would-be franchise-starter "John Carter," Disney's flop, which is taking a write-down of $200 million, grossed just $5 million in its third weekend.
Needless to say it was another up weekend at the domestic boxoffice as the total for all film was an estimated $214 million, up a massive 76% from the comparable frame last year when $121.3 million was reported.