Well, that’s one way to make an impression. The Hunger Games surpassed the wildest industry expectations to debut to $155 million, according to studio estimates.
That’s the third-biggest opening weekend ever, behind only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 ($169.2 million) and The Dark Knight ($158.4 million). It’s also the best debut ever for a non-sequel, crushing 2010’s Alice in Wonderland ($116.1 million), and it represents the top opening weekend for any picture outside the summer movie season. And, yes, it must be mentioned — The Hunger Games opened stronger than all four Twilight films.
The Hunger Games was front-loaded this weekend, but not to the same extent as a Twilight or recent Harry Potter movie. The sci-fi action film, about a dystopian society that forces 24 kids to battle to the death, opened to an estimated $68 million on Friday — the fifth-best opening day ever. It then dropped 25 percent on Saturday for $51 million. A Friday-to-Saturday decline of 25 percent may sound like a lot, but consider that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 fell 53 percent, while The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1 dipped 44 percent. While Potter and Twilight may have more ravenous fans who are willing to rush out and see a movie as early as possible, The Hunger Games seems to be compensating by reaching a broad general audience.
The film’s demographic info confirms as much. According to Lionsgate, The Hunger Games attracted an audience that was 61 percent female. By comparison, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1 drew a crowd that was 80 percent female. Also, The Hunger Games was fairly evenly split by age, with 56 percent at least 25 years old and 44 percent less than 25 years old. However, the younger moviegoers were slightly more enthusiastic. Although the film received an overall “A” grade from CinemaScore participants, those under the age of 25 rated it an “A+,” while those over 25 gave it an “A-.”
It was truly a spectacular weekend for Lionsgate, which spent $80 million to produce The Hunger Games and a relatively modest $45 million to market it. Up until this weekend, the studio’s top grosser was the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which earned a total of $119.2 million. The Hunger Games reached that figure in just two days.
Lionsgate took a risk on not showing the actual Hunger Games in the movie’s trailers and ads, but unlike John Carter, the film’s sci-fi premise was still clearly established. The Hunger Games also had tremendous built-in awareness, with more than 24 million copies of Suzanne Collins’ book trilogy in print domestically. And in Jennifer Lawrence, director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) found an actress who could convincingly inhabit the demanding heroine role of Katniss Everdeen.
Furthermore, the decision to release The Hunger Games on IMAX screens for a one-week run achieved handsome results, with the movie collecting $10.6 million at 268 theaters. That’s the best IMAX debut for a 2-D film that isn’t a sequel. Next weekend, IMAX is contractually obligated to replace The Hunger Games with Wrath of the Titans.
Oh, right, there were other movies playing this weekend too. Last week’s winner, 21 Jump Street, fell a mild 41 percent for $21.3 million. After two weeks, the R-rated comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum has earned an impressive $71.1 million. In third, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax slipped 43 percent for $13.1 million, bringing its cumulative total to $177.3 million. The animated fable remains 2012’s top grosser for now, but will have to relinquish that title to The Hunger Games later this week.
In fourth place was John Carter, down a steep 63 percent for $5 million. The $250 million epic has so far grossed $62.3 million in three weeks — less than what The Hunger Games made in one day. Rounding out the top five was the Navy SEALs war film Act of Valor with $2.1 million, pushing its tally to $65.9 million
Among limited releases, the pro-life drama October Baby debuted to a respectable $1.7 million at 390 theaters. The Indonesian martial arts film The Raid: Redemption opened to $221,000 at 14 theaters for a solid per-location average of more than $15,000. And the critically acclaimed British drama The Deep Blue Sea, starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston, mustered a mediocre $120,000 at 29 theaters.
1. The Hunger Games — $155.0 mil
2. 21 Jump Street — $21.3 mil
3. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax — $13.1 mil
4. John Carter — $5.0 mil
5. Act of Valor — $2.1 mil