“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the sequel about teens fighting to the death in a totalitarian world, took in $161.1 million in weekend cinema sales for studio Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.
The movie topped the March 2012 U.S. opening of the first “Hunger Games.” Walt Disney Co.’s “Delivery Man,” a comedy starring Vince Vaughn, was the only other new film in wide release, collecting $8.22 million to place fourth, Rentrak Corp. said today in an e-mailed statement.
“It’s a franchise that’s inspired worldwide excitement,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “‘The Hunger Games’ is now in the classics category, with the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ films.”
The movie, with Jennifer Lawrence returning as heroine Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as her co-combatant Peeta Mellark, is poised to dominate the box office for three weeks and may earn Lions Gate $400 million or more through its share of ticket sales, DVDs, pay television and free TV, the estimate of Benjamin Mogil, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co.
The weekend’s total included $25.3 million in sales from showings that began at 8 p.m. on Nov. 21, the company said. The original “Hunger Games” had $152.5 million in opening weekend receipts.
“Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” have the three-biggest opening weekends in U.S. and Canadian cinemas.
The new film’s futuristic setting, the appeal of the young characters, including Oscar winner Lawrence, and a story about rebellion against an oppressive government are attracting a wide swath of movie fans. Sales also benefitted from screenings in Imax theaters, where prices are higher, and a lack of competition from new releases.
The 146-minute movie is showing in all of Imax Corp.’s 650- plus screens for three weeks, including almost 350 in the U.S. and Canada. BoxOffice.com projected $166 million in domestic weekend sales. Lions Gate faces little competition until “The Hobbit” sequel opens on Dec. 13, according to Phil Contrino, its chief analyst.
“Catching Fire” picks up where “The Hunger Games” left off, with Everdeen and Mellark touring the fictional nation of Panem after winning the 74th Hunger Games. They inadvertently become symbols of rebellion and are forced to compete again, this time against more deadly foes -- former winners like themselves. Donald Sutherland again stars as President Snow, and Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci return in supporting roles. Lawrence, 23, won the best-actress Oscar this year for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
“Catching Fire” garnered an 89 percent favorable rating on RottenTomatoes.com, which aggregates critics’ reviews.
“The studio squeezes the franchise for all it’s worth,” Manohla Dargis wrote in the New York Times. “‘Catching Fire’ isn’t a great work of art but it’s a competent, at times exciting movie.”
The best prospects for growth over the original film are outside the U.S., where sequels tend to do better, according to Mogil. Foreign sales may be as much as $450 million, he said. The first picture generated $283.2 million internationally.
The studio has scheduled a third movie from “The Hunger Games” for release next November and the fourth a year later, according to Box Office Mojo.
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