Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
November 25, 2014

He bent it like Beckham Jr.

Kim Hollis: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 had the biggest opening of 2014 to date with $121.9 million. Its opening weekend total is less than the $152.5 million of The Hunger Games and the $158.1 million of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. What do you think of this result?

Jason Barney: At the very least everyone involved should be VERY satisfied with these numbers. Pointing out this is the lowest of the Hunger Games openings is relevant, but I don't put much stock in anything beyond the initial numbers. Regardless if both parts of Mockingjay cost $250 million or a little bit more, the investment is going to be a sound one, very quickly. Mockingjay 1 has had the largest opening of the year by bringing nearly 20% more people than Transformers. Any criticism is relative to the some of the largest openers of all time, so the franchise is still hot, it's doing fine, and nobody has to be concerned.

And the numbers suggest that the film is going make massive amounts of money. When I read BOP's weekend Wrap-Up, it really puts things into perspective. If Mockingjay 1 is the first film in the franchise to not make $400 million domestically... oh, well. It is going to approach those lofty numbers anyway, and whatever deficit it might have compared to the other Hunger Games films, it is easily going to make that up in international numbers.

Really, Lionsgate has absolutely nothing to worry about. Even if we lowball the numbers for the next seven days, it will be over $225 million after less than two weeks of release. Then it will have three weeks of holiday cheer as we approach Christmas. It opened just fine and is a big win for all involved.

Edwin Davies: This is obviously a very good result, and one that is far from disastrous considering the upcoming holiday season will probably ensure that the film will make up a lot of the ground lost from this lower opening. Even if the film ends up making considerably less than its predecessors, it will still cover most of the cost of production for both Parts 1 and 2, so when the final film comes out next year Lionsgate will really reap the rewards of their split film strategy.

However, I feel that this result might have broader implications since this is the first - and certainly the most high profile - example of a film series suffering from breaking one film up in to two parts. There are other factors in play to explain why Mockingjay didn't open to the same number as the first two films - absence of IMAX screens, the poor reputation of the book - but the fact that people are going in knowing that they're only getting half a story is probably the most likely explanation for why the drop was so steep considering how well-received the series has been. Harry Potter and Twilight got away with it because no one had done it before and the fan bases were so rabid, but just like with 3D, there is a tipping point at which people won't be willing to pay more for a worse experience. That pushback won't hurt The Hunger Games because the series is so huge that it can take the hit, but it's got to be giving pause to, oh I don't know, the producers of the Divergent series.

Bruce Hall: It's a numbers based business, so when the third movie in a tentpole franchise opens this shy of its predecessor, people will talk. And if we were talking about the difference between $100 and $75 million, I might be more interested. But we're talking about the difference between $122 and $158 million, and also the biggest opening weekend of the year by far.

So if the question is "What kind of a weekend was this?", the answer is "kick ass!"

But if the question is "Are these movies getting less and less interesting?" or "Were people expecting too much from part three of a four part story?", then the conversation gets more interesting.

Max Braden: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 opened to $125 million after Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince had been low point openers in the middle of the series. Hallows 1 (the seventh movie in the series) was the best opening of the series, and was then significantly surpassed by Part 2 the next year.

I'm not concerned about the drop in the opening number compared to the previous Hunger Games movies because of a few factors: I'd heard negative reviews of the book compared to the others, a mid-series entry is like the late second act of a story in that things are often in limbo and not going the hero's way, and that recent imitators like Divergent have possibly taken the shine off series wow factor. The bottom line is this is the biggest opening of the year so far. I also expect we'll see a significant jump in the opening number for Mockingjay 2 as audiences want to see the conclusion of the series.

David Mumpower: I think we have all touched upon the key factors in evaluating its box office. In the Weekend Wrap-Up, Kim Hollis and I evaluated the binge-watching aspect that also might have come into play here. Consumers have been trained to expect a certain behavior, and these split films fly in the face of that notion. The same folks who rushed to catch up with Breaking Bad in order to be ready for the series finale are now being told that they should A) run out to watch this movie and B) wait a year for the conclusion. That's cinematic blue-balling. I understand why consumer behavior was altered a bit for Mockingjay Part 1.

Having acknowledged the underlying issue, I want to mention a key point here. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the sequel to a beloved film, and it had the Avengers bump going for it. Still, the film opened to less than $100 million. The same is true of Thor, and an argument could be made that Transformers: Age of Extinction was anticipated by the odd folks who enjoy those films. None of them opened to this level.

Had the first two Hunger Games movies opened under $100 million, we would be obsessing over the way that Lionsgate somehow grew the brand. I have mentioned multiple times the oddity of the franchise's first two films opening so high and earning $400 million domestically. Only Star Wars and Batman (and Iron Man if we count The Avengers) have accomplished that feat. If this is what passes for a step back in box office appeal, the franchise is in rare air.

Kim Hollis: Do you feel like The Hunger Games franchise is slipping?

Jason Barney: No. Absolutely not. The performance of Mockingjay 1 is relative to some of the largest openers of all time and the international numbers will be more impressive than the previous two films. I don't believe it is slipping at all.

Edwin Davies: As I suggested in response to the previous question, I feel that this is the result of a very specific set of circumstances rather than franchise fatigue as a whole. Mockingjay Part 1 had some disadvantages that the first two did not, most of which stem from the lesser quality of the book and the inherently unsatisfying way that the story has to be split in two. The worst case scenario for the series is that Mockingjay makes $50-100 million less than the first two films, then people catch up with it in time for Part 2, at which point the series rebounds in a big way as people rush to see how it ends.

I feel that there wasn't that much of a rush for people to see this one, but that it doesn't necessarily represent an irreversible decline for the series.

Bruce Hall: As I mentioned prior to this, I feel less and less interested in each installment, but that's just me. I read all three books and couldn't put them down, so it's not that I have a problem with the material. I just feel that the films lack vibrancy. They are competent approximations, and they look very much the way I imagined that universe looking as I read the books.

Box office aside - the films just don't grab me. I always seem to leave the theater thinking I could easily have waited for it to show up on Netflix.

I can't be alone in this.

Max Braden: I do think the franchise has lost a bit of its market share in the young-adult/post-war sci-fi genre. Movies like Divergent, The Giver, and The Maze Runner (all released this year), though not nearly as strong in box office, have demonstrated that The Hunger Games isn't the new hot thing anymore. You also have the problem with Mockingjay 1 of selling a mid-series story: it won't contain the strong hook of the first movie or the strong closing of the last movie in the series. In that sense I could say yes, the franchise is slipping a bit, but I also think this is a natural occurrence for a property spread out over more than three movies and that is so popular that it creates its own imitators. Slipping, but not suffering.

David Mumpower: I am the polar opposite of Bruce in that I loooooove this franchise. Even so, I do believe that The Hunger Games has slipped a bit. I don't mean a lot by any stretch, but it's going to finish significantly behind the last two films in terms of domestic gross. Part of that is because of the split films concept, and part of it is simple franchise fatigue from having three movies in 32 months.

I suspect that the primary issue is that the word is out on the darkness of Mockingjay the novel, though. A few years ago, we chronicled how all of the various war films struggled. Make no mistake on the point. Mockingjay is as bleak as any of them. My brother, who has not read the books, looked like he needed a therapy session in coping with loss after he watched the film. Even Christopher Nolan thinks Mockingjay Part 1 is kind of dark. That's a tough sell, and it does damage the brand. The scary thought is that Mockingjay Part 2 is even worse unless Lionsgate has sagely changed the ending of the story.

Tim Briody: This is by virtually every account the weakest of the three books and now it's divided in half as any successful franchise wants to do now. The franchise isn't really slipping (and since it's only got one more movie in it it's not that it matters), it's a victim of die-hard fans knowing that Part 1 is all set up, it's a year until Part 2 and the whole "last book is two movies" bit is getting really old now.