Hunger Games = Box Office Insanity
By John Hamann
March 25, 2012
To stay with the final Potter, The Hunger Games was going to need a huge Saturday and Sunday, bigger than Deathly Hallows Part 2. It would have to break out to non-fans of the book and appeal to people older than 20. The Saturday gross for the Suzanne Collins book came in at $50 million (Potter earned $42.4 million on Saturday), and is estimated to have earned $36.75 million on Sunday (Potter earned $35.7 million). What The Deathly Hallows Part 2 had going for it that The Hunger Games did not was the prime release date, as Potter was unleashed in July, and this is March, barely even spring yet. July is not a school month, whereas this weekend some were returning from March break on Monday. In other words, Potter had significantly more weekend advantages yet The Hunger Games managed $86.75 million on Saturday/Sunday while the final Potter film accumulated $78.1 million. Yes, The Hunger Games outperformed the final Potter film by 11% in this time frame.
Another method to underscore the power of The Hunger Games is that the previous record holder for the month of March was Alice In Wonderland, which took in $116 million in 2010. Second is 300, $45 million behind Alice at $70.8 million. The Hunger Games is almost $50 million above the previous record holder and well over double the 300 debut. The Hunger Games has redefined March box office potential.
With few other choices out there, The Hunger Games was able to draw all-comers. Theater owners multiplied their screens to get more bums in seats, and IMAX screenings were packed. The result is a huge $155 million opening weekend – one for the ages. The Lionsgate release went out to 4,137 venues – 238 less than that final Potter film. It had a venue average of $37,467, which has to be welcome news for beleaguered theater owners. The Hunger Games now holds the record for biggest March opening, biggest opening weekend ever for a non-sequel, and the biggest opening day for a non-sequel. It is the third biggest opener ever, behind only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Dark Knight (which only beats it by $3.4 million).
For Jennifer Lawrence, a quick career rise has now been blown into the stratosphere. Despite work prior to Winter's Bone, the 2010 release was the film that catapulted her into stardom, despite the film being seen by very few in theaters. Lawrence was an out-of-nowhere Oscar nominee for Winter's Bone, and while she didn't win, the fact that she was nominated got her the role of a young Mystique in X-Men: First Class, the comic book critical darling of 2011, and earned $350 million worldwide. Lawrence was paid only $500,000 for her role in The Hunger Games, or about 0.3% of the film's opening weekend.
Gary Ross, who hadn't directed a film since 2003's Seabiscuit (a $120 million hit), helmed The Hunger Games. This, in my opinion, was a much better choice than, say, Catherine Hardwicke for the first Twilight film. It was more of a Chris Columbus move. Columbus directed the first and second Harry Potter films, despite his last big hits coming eight years earlier with Mrs. Doubtfire and the Home Alone series. Ross is also a writer, and like Lawrence, is also an Oscar nominee for scripting films like 1988's Big and 1993's Dave.
Lionsgate brought on plenty of quality for what is to be the jewel in their library. Supporting actors include Woody Harrelson (nominated for two Oscars), Wes Bentley (American Beauty), Stanley Tucci (nominated for The Lovely Bones), Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Elizabeth Banks. Despite the strong cast, The Hunger Games had a relatively low production budget of $90 million, which was reduced to $78 million following production subsidies. That amount was likely earned by lunchtime Saturday, The Hunger Games' second day of release.