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As it turns out, the only people Katniss Everdeen couldn’t defeat over the weekend were Harry Potter and Batman.
The Hunger Games, the blockbuster adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel, dominated the competition at the box office, opening to a staggering $155 million (according to early estimates posted on Box Office Mojo). Though the opening shattered a number of standing box office records, the most significant has to be this: Hunger Games currently enjoys the third-highest weekend opening of all time, behind only The Dark Knight ($158.4M in 2008) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.1M in 2011).
No one predicted such an opening for Gary Ross’ Games. No one. Conservative estimates put the opening somewhere between $110M and $120M. Even the most liberal weekend estimates still questioned whether The Hunger Games could surpass the $142.8M set by The Twilight Saga: New Moon back in 2009.
Comparisons to Stephenie Meyer’s soapy vampire series should end now that Hunger Games has flexed its muscle and established itself as a legitimate franchise that can stand on its own. In fact, comparisons to most franchises should be moot, as Hunger Games surpassed installments in the Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Iron Man, Transformers and Toy Story franchises.
And it did it all without the benefit of increased 3D ticket prices (though Games did pull in an estimated $10.6M from IMAX screenings).
Let’s run through the box-office milestones that tumbled before The Hunger Games. The film now holds the record for top midnight debut for a non-sequel ($19.74M). Its $155M pull makes it the highest-grossing March opening (ahead of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) and the highest-grossing Spring opening (ahead of Alice and Fast Five). And in four short days, it became the highest-grossing film in Lionsgate history. That mark was held by Michael Moore’s controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which earned $119.2M back in 2004.
Enough looking back. Analysts now are looking forward to see how much Hunger Games could make during its box-office run. As Mojo points out, the film had remarkable hold from Friday into Saturday, losing only 25% of its audience to suggest that there is still a deep desire to see Ross’ massive hit in theaters. And while Wrath of the Titans and Mirror Mirror enter the marketplace on Friday, neither poses much of a threat to Games, which could hold on to the top spot at the box office for the next few weeks.
Looking at the films right below it on the all-time opening-weekend charts, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 opened to $151M on its way to $336M overall. New Moon grabbed $142M in its opening frame but topped out at $296M. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, however, held strong in 2008 thanks to overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth, pushing its cume to $533M after opening to $158.4M.
Will The Hunger Games land somewhere in the middle of Spidey and Batman, posting a domestic total in the high $300 or low $400 million range? My guess would put it in the low $300 million range, guessing that those who wanted to see it saw it opening weekend, and banking on repeat viewing being slightly lower than some might be estimating today. The last Harry Potter, after all, only made it to $381M, and that had a world of buzz swirling around the final chapter of a beloved fantasy series. Still, this is nothing short of spectacular for The Hunger Games,, which will attempt to build on its massive success as the studio, Ross and Jennifer Lawrence start preparing for Catching Fire. At this point, it’s safe to say the odds are in this franchise’s favor.