The 500 pound gorilla of the spring season arrives in theaters this week, in the form of the first film from The Hunger Games trilogy of books. Although other films ducked away from a long time ago, the hype has steadily increased over the past few weeks to the point where it would be the only game in town anyway. If you're going to a movie this weekend that's not The Hunger Games, be prepared for some cold stares.
Weekend Forecast for March 23-25, 2012
By Reagen Sulewski
March 23, 2012
For the benefit of the seven people who aren't familiar with the series, it's a young adult novel series set in a post-apocalyptic North American dictatorship named Panem, with outlying rural regions kept under the heel of a tyrannical central government through control of the food supply. And to make sure things stay that way and to just be general bastards, there's the titular contest, a televised Battle Royale-style fight to the death among one boy and one girl from each of Panem's districts. Filled with glitz and glamor, the spectacle highlights the imperialism and decadence of the central government. A wild card is thrown into the mix when one entrant named Katniss volunteers to spare her younger sister from certain death, and proves to be so competent and scheming that she could upend the entire apple cart.
Such is the stuff that young adult literary sensations are made of. The latest book series to be required reading by force of law, the first book has sold an estimated three million copies plus another million eBooks, which are ridiculous numbers in the publishing world. So it's only natural that with its big-screen friendly action premise, and with studios looking for the next big adaptation series now that Harry Potter is done and Twilight is wrapping up, that this would get a full treatment. That timing is probably proving to be its biggest asset, as it has the cultural zeitgeist all to itself at the moment.
Although you could have sold this movie with just about anyone in it, the casting seems to have been done quite well, with Jennifer Lawrence playing the female lead, a stripped-down no-nonsense action chick. After she burst out of nowhere to earn an Oscar nomination for Winter's Bone, Lawrence immediately became a hot commodity, in kind of an eerie parallel to certain parts of the Hunger Games plot. But as a fresh face, Lawrence is on the cusp of breaking out as a household name – and for the somewhat unusual reason of deserving it. Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Kids Are All Right star Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta, the boy from Katniss' district who is also chosen for the games, while the rest of the cast is rounded out with a bunch of familiar names – Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Wes Bentley, to name a few.
Interest for the film has slowly ramped up to a near fever pitch, and with the significant cross-demographic appeal, the potential for this film's opening weekend is not easy to put a ceiling on, and makes prediction a bit futile. When you're getting this many people out in a weekend to see a film, small changes in behavior can have a big impact and influence on the final weekend number. Exact numbers become kind of irrelevant at this point, and it often becomes a game of “shout the bigger number”. It's clear that $100 million is a sort of basement for the opening weekend, and that it's probably not going to break the record. It's not impossible, though, so watch out. At over 4,000 venues and with a ridiculous number of midnight and morning screenings, The Hunger Games is poised for an opening weekend of about $133 million.
The rest of the slate of films is almost irrelevant by this measure, but there's a couple of interesting films out there to consider. 21 Jump Street surprised a lot of people with a $36 million opening weekend on what seemed like yet another throw away TV adaptation, and which somehow turned out to be funny. I still don't give it a lot of chance for legs, though that's not really a requirement for it to be considered a success at this point. There's already a sequel in the works, and Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are both box office forces now. I know, I'm scared too. Give it $19 million for its follow-up weekend.
The Lorax hasn't shown particularly strong legs either to date, but with $160 million in the bank so far, that's the problem you file under “Ones to have, Good”. It's easily going to cross the $200 million plateau, and may end up around $225 million, which will rank it as the second most popular Dr. Seuss adaptation after How the Grinch Stole Christmas. That should mean around $12 million for it this frame.
Disney keeps pointing to international box office, but John Carter is not going to shake the stink of failure. The $250 million picture is already dropping steeply, and may not break $75 million domestically. With a pretty direct challenge in its genre this weekend, it may only barely break $5 million.
With just a couple of strong returning films and a rare spring mega-buster, this should prove to be one of the most top-heavy weekends in some time. A film may break the top 5 with as little as $2 million.