The girl on fire is still burning bright! Lionsgate’s hotly anticipated sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire trounced the competition over its first weekend at the box office, pulling in an estimated $161.1 million. That gross handily beats the $152.5 million opening of The Hunger Games, which opened in March 2012, and it stands as the best November debut of all time ahead of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which bowed with $142.9 million in 2009.
Only three films have ever opened higher than Catching Fire: The Avengers ($207.4 million), Iron Man 3 ($174.1 million), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.2 million). Many prognosticators (this one included) thought Catching Fire might surpass Iron Man 3‘s opening earlier this year, but the superhero sequel had the notable advantage of 3-D ticket sales, and Catching Fire fell short. Still, if estimates hold up when final grosses are released tomorrow, Catching Fire will have bested The Dark Knight Rises as the highest 2-D opener of all time. Rises pulled in $160.9 million during its opening weekend in 2012. Even without 3-D appeal, Catching Fire played very well on IMAX screens. The large-screen format accounted for $12.6 million of its domestic debut.
Catching Fire played to audiences in all four quadrants. Crowds over 25 and under 25 were evenly split, and although the film had more female viewers than males (59 percent vs. 41 percent), more men turned out on opening weekend than for the original Hunger Games. Females made up 61 percent of that film’s opening weekend audience. The passionate moviegoers who saw the film this weekend awarded the film an enthusiastic “A” CinemaScore grade, which will yield great word-of-mouth as the film enters the lucrative Thanksgiving period next weekend. It seems likely that holiday business will help Catching Fire surpass The Hunger Games‘ $408 million domestic total, but we’ll have to wait and see whether that actually happens.
Internationally, Catching Fire is already doing double the numbers of The Hunger Games, which pulled in $283.2 million overseas for a $691.2 million worldwide total. Catching Fire grossed $146.6 million overseas in its first weekend from 63 territories, giving it a dazzling $307.7 million worldwide opening weekend. That’s up 45 percent from The Hunger Games‘ $211.8 million global debut — a whopping $152.5 million of which came from the U.S. and Canada.
Catching Fire, which stars current it-girl (and Oscar winner for last year’s Silver Linings Playbook) Jennifer Lawrence, boasts a relatively slim budget compared to most mega-blockbusters. Lionsgate spent $130 million on the film — a major increase from the original Hunger Games‘ $78 million budget. For context, here are the budgets for untested franchise launchpads that tried to get off the ground earlier this year: The Lone Ranger ($215 million), Jack the Giant Slayer ($195 million), Pacific Rim ($190 million), White House Down ($150 million), Turbo ($135 million). None of those films earned, in their entire domestic runs, what Catching Fire earned in its first two days.
By Grady Smith