Get ready to hear a lot more about "The Hunger Games" than you ever expected. The adaptation of Suzanne Collins 2008 novel has been the center of tremendous hype ever since it was labeled the "next" "Twilight" franchise after Lionsgate acquired the big screen rights in 2009. However, with only 2.9 million copies in print the fan base isn't anywhere near the level Stephenie Meyer's franchise (116 million copies in print as of Oct. 2010). Well, much to even Lionsgate's surprise it appears lightning has struck twice and "Hunger Games" is about to ravage your local movie theater.
Opening in less than two weeks, pre-release polling has the Gary Ross film drawing more movie audience interest than the first "Twilight" which debuted to $69.6 million in 2008. In fact, while the studio is sticking by a $75 million projection for now, rivals say the data actually points to anywhere from a $130-150 million debut. That estimate puts the franchise in the gaudy range of "New Moon" ($142 million) and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1's" ($125 million) debuts. That figure would also break "Alice in Wonderland's" all-time March opening gross of $116 million which had the benefit of higher 3D ticket prices. "Hunger Games" will only be released in IMAX and conventional 2D theaters.
Needless to say, at the moment it looks like Lionsgate's $90 million gamble will pay off in spades and its no surprise the company locked a date for the sequel, "Catching Fire," for Nov. 22, 2013.
The rosy outlook is also affecting the films debuting the weekend after "Hunger Games"; "Wrath of the Titans" and "Mirror, Mirror." Both films appeal to different demographics, but are each polling around a $35 million opening. And, most likely, they'll be fighting for a distant second place to another huge "Hunger Games" gross in its second week. This has to be disconcerting for Warner Bros. after "Clash of the Titans" soared to $61 million two years ago, but no one in Hollywood thought "Games" could realistically come close to a $100 million debut so the date appeared "safe." Now? We'll have to see how far Sam Worthington can take a "Wrath" that's intended to be far superior than its predecessor.
If tracking stays on target, "Games" is also set to join "The Vow," "Safe House" and "The Lorax" as the fourth film to easily cross the $100 million mark in just the first tree months of 2012. What's more remarkable is that only one of those films is benefiting from those previously mentioned inflated 3D ticket prices ("Lorax").
"The Hunger Games" stars Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson among others. It opens nationwide on Friday, March 23..
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