The Hunger Games Math

By David Mumpower

March 26, 2012

So. Who wants to smoke some pot?

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Box office actuals are in and I am certain that you have heard by now that The Hunger Games was overestimated a bit. The third best opening weekend of all time is officially $152.5 million. This is roughly 1% better than Spider-Man 3 as well as 6.8% better than any Twilight movie has managed. Yes, $155 million was a better number, but The Hunger Games maintains the third largest opening of all time and appears to be a mortal lock as the biggest non-sequel for years to come. That massive $152.5 million is 31.3% better than previous record holder Alice in Wonderland's $116.1 million.

We have reached the point of diminishing returns in terms of complimenting Lionsgate's triumph with this unprecedented franchise launch. What I wanted to do instead is compare The Hunger Games to the other seven films with the largest openings of all time. I believe that this will give you a better understanding of how staggering a box office accomplishment this is.

Attached to this column is a chart that includes box office categories for midnight sneaks, daily performances for each title's weekend, their weekend totals and their final domestic takes. There is one other category that isn't often discussed each weekend for various administrative reasons that paints a fascinating picture. It is the Saturday + Sunday total.


Since box office tallies include estimates for Sunday, the story for a release is oftentimes written before its numbers are official. In the case of The Hunger Games, the original presumption that the Lionsgate release had out-performed the eighth and concluding Harry Potter film on Saturday and Sunday proved to be premature and incorrect. In evaluating the numbers, however, you will appreciate just how well The Hunger Games held up.

In recent years, midnight sneaks have become a seminal portion of opening weekend revenue for sequels. You will notice that the "oldest" title on the list, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, has one of the lowest midnight totals and this is the reason why. Studios and publicity firms attempt to create a must-watch passion for projects. Plus, midnight screenings are a fun evening for diehards to get together in celebration of their shared love for the subject matter. The Dark Knight is the title that made midnight sneaks fashionable, as it delivered a splashy $18.5 million. This was a "take notice" type of performance that altered fundamental behavior for four-quadrant tentpole releases. You will note that the titles listed below that have the most ardent supporters, Twilight and Harry Potter, deliver the strongest midnight numbers. Why wait? That is the philosophy shared by Twihards and would-be wizards.

The Hunger Games delivered a strong $19.8 million from the Thursday midnight showings. This is a number that pales in comparison to Twilight's $26.2/$30.3 million and certainly cannot hold a torch to the final Potter's almost incomprehensible $43.5 million. Tim Briody and John Hamann each commented that the $23.7 million in midnight showings is the primary reason why The Hunger Games could not usurp Potter for best opening weekend ever. That is simply too much revenue to overcome in two days.

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