“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1” topped the box office this weekend and soared past the $100-million debut of “Transformers: Age of Extinction” to become this year’s biggest opening.
However, with its $123-million debut, the latest Lionsgate franchise film fell short of the studio’s initial $130-million expectation and made far less than forecasters' over-the-top projections of between $150 million to $170 million.
It also couldn't surpass the robust openings of its franchise predecessors. Based on the bestselling young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins, the “Hunger Games” movies have been big huge hits for the Santa Monica-based studio.
In 2012, "The Hunger Games" opened to $155 million. It ultimately pulled in about $408 million in the U.S. and Canada.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," the second installment of the franchise, pulled in $161 million in its opening weekend in November 2013. It went on to gross nearly $425 million and took the No. 10 spot on the all-time U.S. box-office list, according to the Internet Movie Database.
"Mockingjay — Part 1" is the opening installment of the two-part finale of the blockbuster franchise. The Francis Lawrence-directed film follows heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 as she transforms into the Mockingjay, a symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol.
The PG-13 rated film also stars Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Julianne Moore (President Coin) and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee).
The film unsurprisingly attracted largely younger, female crowds: An estimated 52% of moviegoers were younger than 25. Females made up 60% of the audience.
The media blitz for the film included 35 national broadcast talk show appearances, several TV spots, an IMDB Twitter chat, a Reddit AMA, a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” a Facebook fan event with the cast and a Yahoo/Tumblr Live Stream from the L.A. premiere last week.
Lionsgate also manages more than 30 dedicated websites, social media accounts, applications and games for the franchise. Over the last seven months, the studio increased the franchise’s social media presence by 80%, averaging more than 30-million mentions on Twitter.
The successful marketing campaign likely contributed to the film’s strength in the international market.
Overseas, “Mockingjay” pulled in a strong $152 million in 85 markets, Lionsgate’s widest release ever. The opening numbers were up in Britain (5%), Germany (9%), Russia (19%), France (4%) and Korea (14%) from last year’s “Catching Fire” debut.
“We are off to a great start with the biggest opening of the year to date and we expect the film to play right through the holidays,” David Spitz, Lionsgate’s executive vice president and general sales manager of theatrical domestic distribution, wrote in an emailed statement to The Times. “We’re also delighted that the international results are outperforming those of Catching Fire as we continue to build The Hunger Games Franchise into a truly global phenomenon.”
Though the franchise is a favorite -- especially among younger audiences -- reviews for “Mockingjay - Part 1” have been mixed.
It earned a high A-minus rating from audience polling firm CinemaScore and a decent 67% “fresh” rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
While some critics called it a solid segue, others complained that the two-part approach to the finale feels like a cheap cash-in.
It may not have caught fire, but “Mockingjay - Part 1” likely did help the overall box office, which is down just 3.6% year-to-date.
Disney’s “Big Hero 6” secured the No. 2 spot this weekend, adding about $20 million to its gross. The animated film has made $135.7 million.
Christopher Nolan’s outer space epic “Interstellar” was third with $15.1 million. The space drama’s total gross is $120.7 million.
Meanwhile, “Dumb and Dumber To” dropped 62% from first to fourth place in its second weekend. The Universal Pictures comedy added $13.8 million, making its total gross about $57 million.
Two months after its release, Twentieth Century Fox’s “Gone Girl” still stayed steady in the top five. The David Fincher film took in about $2.8 million, bringing its domestic total to $156.8 million.
It’s unclear as to whether the odds will remain in favor of “Mockingjay - Part 1” in the coming weeks. Over the long Thanksgiving holiday, Warner Bros. will release its comedy “Horrible Bosses 2” and Fox will release animated film “Penguins of Madagascar.”
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