Top Film Industry Stories of 2013: #4

Catching Fire Ignites

By David Mumpower

January 12, 2014

All hail the box office champion of 2014.

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On infrequent occasions, a story’s importance propagates beyond the initial year of occurrence. Such a situation has proven to be a rarity over the years. Only a handful of news items have received repeat attention on our list, which has been ongoing since 2002. Perhaps that is why the same film franchise proving itself so newsworthy in consecutive years is unimaginable.

Two years ago at this time, most of the world had no idea what The Hunger Games are. Today, the ubiquity of Katniss’s heroics is unmistakable. Many established female protagonists have suddenly been pictured with a bow and arrow simply because Ms. Everdeen made the weapon cool again. And audiences continue to share a hunger (sorry) for the woman who is attempting to elevate District 12 from squalor. Well, what’s left of it.

A year ago at this time, the ascension of The Hunger Games was selected as the fourth most notable story of 2012. I authored that column, remarking that nature abhors a vacuum. The presumption has been that with Harry Potter and Twilight winding down as franchises, something new would be expected to take their place. The fact that an unknown, unestablished property would become as popular as those two franchises seemed unlikely.


The unexpected turn of events was that the first Hunger Games movie outperformed any of the dozen titles released by those two franchises. Twilight’s high water mark was $300.5 million for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 grossed $381 million, over $60 million more than any other Harry Potter movie. How, then, do we explain the fact that The Hunger Games started with $408 million, the 14th best domestic blockbuster of all-time to that point?

In the process, the Suzanne Collins adaptation violated every notion of box office behavior. The first release is supposed to lay the groundwork for a franchise; then, the brand is expected to grow from there. We witnessed this expected behavior with Pirates of the Caribbean, Iron Man/The Avengers, Shrek and the Pixar library. Perhaps the only franchise in the 2000s that debuted so high was Spider-Man, the record-shattering 2001 release. And we all know how the sequels to that superhero movie performed. The magic word is “timbeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!” Ergo, the only previous precedent for The Hunger Games was a title that lost over half of its popularity over the course of three sequels (adjusting for ticket price inflation).

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire quickly went into production. The scintillating performance of the original movie incentivized Lionsgate to strike while the iron was liquid metal hot. Their choice was clear. Do you know how many other non-sequels have earned $400 million domestically in the 2000s? Spider-Man and Avatar. That’s the list. The Avengers would count if we ignored that there was a four movie build-up to its release. And if we went back to include 1990s titles, the only ones we would add are Jurassic Park, Titanic and The Lion King. The 1980s had one: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Are you beginning to appreciate how rare an achievement it was for The Hunger Games to earn $400 million right off the bat?

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