'Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence appear in a scene from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close / Associated Press)

No surprise: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" will make a lot of money this weekend.

The Jennifer Lawrence film, based on the post-apocalyptic young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins, opened with 8 p.m. previews on Thursday and is already making a killing -- fetching $25.25 million on its first night. 

As we enter the much-watched, possibly record-breaking debut weekend (which could see total ticket sales anywhere from $150 million to over $180 million), let's take a look at some of the details as the movie thunders into theaters. 

Breaking records?: "Catching Fire" could drive an arrow through a couple of box office records. It could topple the top opener for November, "Twilight Saga: New Moon," which made nearly $143 million in its first weekend. If "Catching Fire" strikes the highest estimates, it could unseat "Iron Man 3" as the biggest opener of the year ($174 million) and become the second-highest ever, after "Avengers."  

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International appeal: The first "Hunger Games" didn't burn so brightly overseas, likely because people weren't as aware of the book series as the American public. But "Catching Fire" is likely to do much better, now that foreign appetite for the franchise has been whetted by the first movie. The first night of international showings drew $32 million from 43 countries, and it will run in 65 territories this weekend. For reference, the first "Twilight" movie made less than $200 million outside the United States. The follow-up "Twilight Saga: New Moon," more than doubled that tally.  

Thursday gross: So the movie topped $25 million in its first night, including 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight shows. But what does that portend, exactly? While the figure is 28% greater than the first "Hunger Games," keep in mind the 2012 movie only had midnight showings, so it's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison. And what does it mean for the weekend? That's difficult to say, too. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," which holds the record for the biggest opening night ($43.5 million) made 25% of its weekend take from midnight shows, while "New Moon" made 18%. The first "Hunger Games" made about 13% of its opening weekend from midnight shows. Maybe "Hunger Games" fans are willing to wait a night or two. Bottom line: Take the numbers with a grain of salt. 

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CinemaScore: If moviegoers love it, more will come. Last year's "Hunger Games" drew a coveted 'A' rating from CinemaScore, a research firm that polled people who had watched the film. Among audiences under the age of 18, an important demographic for the movie series, it got an A+. That kind of response could mean strong word-of-mouth among those who aren't yet rabid fans. 

Critical reception: Critical darlings don't always make it big at the box office, but a well-reviewed movie that also has a wide audience appeal can get a lot of momentum. Just look at the well-received space drama "Gravity," which has pulled in more than $242 million in the United States after opening with $55 million in the first weekend. Reviews of "Catching Fire" have been generally better than its predecessor, scoring a 89% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compared with a 84% rating for the first "Hunger Games." Metacritic, a website that aggregates reviews, gave "Catching Fire" a "Metascore" of 75 out of 100, while the original received a 67.

ALSO:

Review: 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' 

'Hunger Games' sequel to catch fire in box-office debut

'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' ignites Thursday box office

Twitter: @rfaughnder

ryan.faughnder@latimes.com