Hunger Games = Box Office Insanity
By John Hamann
March 25, 2012
Bam! The latest teen book craze rolled into theaters as a movie, and what do you know? We have a Twilight-sized hit on our hands with The Hunger Games. The savior of Lionsgate took out a handful of records and avoided the glum, poorly-made style that young people have become used to thanks to those terrible Twilight movies. Yes, The Hunger Games is actually a movie of two molds. First of all, it is based on a book and has the solid film-making that dominated the Harry Potter era. Secondly, it also benefits from the same sort of fanatical following demonstrated by the thankfully-almost-over Twilight era. The Hunger Games is the new big thing, Jennifer Lawrence is now a superstar, and Lionsgate is back in business.
It was late February. Act of Valor and Tyler Perry's Good Deeds were on top of the box office and I was depressed. Sure, The Lorax was coming and was sure to provide a jolt to the box office, but the majority of films on the release schedule simply weren't exciting. That week, I read a news story about Fandango pre-sales for The Hunger Games outpacing those of last Twilight release. Impossible, I thought, there is no way a movie, a first in a supposed trilogy, is outpacing that of the fourth film in the Twilight series. As an early-40s male, The Hunger Games was only on my radar due to the upcoming film, and following the Fandango story, I thought The Hunger Games might eclipse the gross of the first Twilight film, which came in $69.6 million. That thought gave me joy.
The following weekend, The Lorax broke out. The weekend after that, John Carter seriously faltered, and the door fell wide open for The Hunger Games. It was still two weekends away, but one could tell that teens were already frothing at the mouth. Last weekend, 21 Jump Street opened very strongly for a mid-March comedy. The box office had been strong all year, but the number four film last weekend earned only $4 million – the box office was extremely top heavy. The bottom six last weekend earned only $20.9 million combined, and had 13,500 venues in play. Thus, many theaters were virtually empty last weekend – again, a very good sign for The Hunger Games.
Then, I saw an article on The Hunger Games last weekend at The Hollywood Reporter web site, with the title “Hunger Games Tracking To Open Bigger Than Breaking Dawn”, and the little hairs began to stand up on the back of my neck. I knew then that something really big was going to happen this weekend.
That brings us to Friday morning, when we all learned that The Hunger Games earned $19.75 million from midnight screenings alone – a record for a non-sequel. Unless something very weird happened, The Hunger Games was going to join the big five – the five biggest opening films of all time. The last Harry Potter film did $43.5 million from midnight screenings, so the $169 million, number one weekend was likely out of reach. The Friday number for The Hunger Games came in at a red-hot $68.25 million. If you subtract the $19.75 million from midnight sneaks, the studio realized a true first day gross of about $48.5 million. This number made me realize how big The Hunger Games is, and this is why: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2, currently the biggest opener ever, earned $91.1 million on its opening day. Subtract the $43.5 million from midnight screenings, and the final Potter had a true first Friday gross of $47.6 million, or about a million LESS than The Hunger Games did on opening day. This, ladies and gentlemen, indicates a phenomenon has been born at movie theaters this weekend. Potter had seven films to build to a conclusion, and an obviously big gross. The Hunger Games had none.