'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1' poised for biggest 2014 debut

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1' poised for biggest 2014 debut
In this image released by Lionsgate, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen in a scene from "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1." (Murray Close / Associated Press)

While tracking forecasts vary on exactly how much the latest "Hunger Games" installment will make in its debut, one thing is for sure: "Mockingjay -- Part 1" is going to soar.

With no other new wide releases at the box office this weekend, the Lionsgate franchise film is poised to have the biggest opening of the year, surpassing the $100-million debut of "Transformers: Age of Extinction" in June.


The studio expects the film will pull in between $130 million to $150 million -- but some analysts think it could gross a whopping $170 million. Lionsgate also anticipates it will catch fire overseas as it opens in 85 international markets this weekend.

Based on the bestselling young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins, the "Hunger Games" movies have been big hits for the Santa Monica-based studio.

In 2012, "The Hunger Games" debuted with $155 million. It ultimately pulled in about $408 million in the United States and Canada.

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," the second installment of the franchise, opened to $161 million 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.

Together, the films have grossed more than $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office.

It's no surprise that franchises have recorded some of the biggest openings at the box office. According to research firm Rentrak, Marvel's "The Avengers" topped domestic franchise openings with $207.4 million in 2012. "Iron Man 3" was second with $174.1 million in 2013. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" came in third with $169.2 million in 2011.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1" is the opening installment of the two-part finale to 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).

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.

Social media also played a key role. The studio 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.

Also leading up to the film's release, fans of the franchise were able to tune in to programming on Capitol TV, a website that is based on the government-sanctioned TV network of "The Hunger Games."

The website featured a five-episode "District Voices" series. The series stars popular YouTube creators, who have a combined fan base of more than 4.9 million subscribers and more than 550 million video views.

All of the videos were created and developed with the team from YouTube Space LA and filmed in and around Los Angeles. The promotional campaign was overseen by Google's Art, Copy & Code marketing group.

Fandango, the nation's largest online movie ticket company, said on Wednesday that the upcoming movie has sold more first-day advance tickets than any other in 2014 so far.

The film accounted for 90% of Fandango's weekend ticket sales. "Divergent," another Lionsgate young adult franchise, set the previous 2014 record for Fandango.

With such a robust marketing campaign and fan-driven hype behind the franchise, "The Hunger Games Mockingjay -- Part 1" will likely replicate the success of its predecessors.

However, the film faces a few disadvantages.

For one, "Mockingjay -- Part 1" will not play on Imax screens. Instead, the theater chain will continue showing Christopher Nolan's space drama "Interstellar."

Reviews for "Mockingjay -- Part 1" have also been mixed. As of Wednesday, the film posted a 71% "fresh" rating on 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.

Other films at the box office -- "Dumb and Dumber To," "Big Hero 6" and "Interstellar" -- will likely stay in the top five this weekend.

Regardless of the final weekend haul for “Mockingjay -- Part 1,” it seems the odds will be in the franchise’s favor. 

For more news on the entertainment industry, follow me @saba_h on Twitter.