Mockingjay Part 1 Catches Fire
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
November 23, 2014
What has been a grim 2014 box office campaign has demonstrated signs of life in recent weeks thanks to high-profile releases such as Big Hero 6 and Interstellar and lowbrow populist fare like Dumb and Dumber To. This weekend, however, has been the one circled on the calendars of Hollywood insiders as the presumed biggest opener of 2014 finally debuts. To the surprise of absolutely no one, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 has dominated the box office landscape. Whether or not the result is impressive is in the eye of the beholder.
The question this weekend was obviously not if Mockingjay Part 1 would win but by how much and with what amount. The answer to one of those questions is that its box office approximately doubled the rest of the top ten in combination. Mockingjay Part 1 grossed an estimated $123 million, thereby becoming the largest debut of 2014. It easily surpassed Transformers: Age of Extinction, which held the previous top spot with $100 million. In the process, Mockingjay Part 1 became the 15th largest opening weekend of all-time. It is also the third Hunger Games title in the top 15, meaning that the franchise claims a full 20% of the best weekends ever.
Any film that becomes the biggest opener of the year and one of the greatest ever has done a lot right. Cynics will be quick to point out the pink elephant in the living room, though. Mockingjay Part 1 opened $35 million lower than The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which debuted to $158.1 million. It even fell far short of the $152.5 million opening weekend for The Hunger Games. The discussion becomes whether the movie audience for The Hunger Games is shrinking. The explanation is opaque.
A few years ago, movie studios developed a new tactic for maximizing revenue. Since the weekend after Thanksgiving is a dead zone at movie theaters, movies that debuted over the holiday struggled after their first few days of glorious box office. In order to earn more money while still being in theaters during Thanksgiving week, major releases started launching the week prior to Thanksgiving. It’s a clever strategy, but there is a blessing and a curse with it.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire actually followed this release pattern. After earning $71 million on its first day and the afore-mentioned $158.1 million for the weekend, that film earned $138.2 million during Thanksgiving week. That is the beauty of the pre-Thanksgiving release pattern. Mockingjay Part 1 should experience a similar hold, which should add another $105-$110 million over the next seven days. We are discussing an anticipated 10-day take in excess of $225 million domestically for a title that cost $250 million to produce. Better yet, that budget amount is for both parts of Mockingjay. When the final release enters theaters, it will essentially be free money for distributor Lionsgate.
Why didn’t the film match its predecessors? Consider the particular case of the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. The third novel from which it is adapted has been divided into a pair of feature films, again to maximize revenue. The franchise will effectively double its gross income from the final book. That sounds great in theory. In execution, splitting the story into two titles lessens the drive to watch the third but not final movie. Why would a consumer rush to see Part 1, knowing that they will lack resolution for 12 months? In addition, why would there be urgency to see the film prior to Thanksgiving week? Potential movie-goers are already aware that seeing the movie faster does nothing for them, and they will have ample free time in the coming days and weeks to catch up.