Who’s hungry? “The Hunger Games” proceeded to predictably beat the stuffing out of the box office, scoring $155 million, the third highest opening weekend in history, and highest for a non-sequel. The fan base came out in full force, no doubt, but so did the normals, as the books don’t (yet) have nearly the support of “Harry Potter” or “Twilight.” But make no mistake, this property had a similar groundswell of opinion, including an ad blitz and news and web coverage suggesting this was the “good” version of those pre-existing properties. Within three days, Lionsgate has their highest grossing domestic release of all time, and Hollywood’s strongest new franchise. Because everyone secretly loves child murder.
Fans were notably pleased, as the picture registered an ‘A’ Cinemascore, which shifted to an ‘A+’ for younger demographics. While there’s no full demo breakdown, it’s likely much of this audience were males, as Lionsgate made the wise decision to push the film with both sexes, downplaying the romantic angle in ads in favor of the action and political intrigue. All this without the benefit of 3D too. “Harry Potter” was a wuss.
Naturally, everyone’s status skyrockets. This lands Gary Ross squarely on the directorial A-List, and he’s already slated to start “Catching Fire” soon. If that film performs to expectations (i.e. “God-mode”), expect Ross to land on a level slightly above Jon Favreau post-”Iron Man” — significantly more handcuffed to the source material of his own franchise, but with an Oscar nominee (“Seabiscuit”) on his resume. Jennifer Lawrence should also likely expect to see a flood of A-List offers coming her way, as this easily catapults her above her peers. However, it doesn’t push Josh Hutcherson anywhere, which is too bad considering he’s five foot nothing.
Interesting to see what theories emerge regarding the film’s sociological angle. “Twilight” didn’t do feminist theorists any favors, while “Harry Potter” only seemed to make the world safer for laser battles. “The Hunger Games,” however, is a big-budget blockbuster centered around the used-to-be-taboo idea of children murdering each other for the enjoyment of adults. On the page that registers as satire, but it's impossible to forget that Lionsgate and the filmmaking team is trying to make the same satirical points by actually filming sequences of mass child murder with the same attitude as any current action blockbuster. With a three-day take like this, society notices. How will they respond?
Meanwhile, back on Earth… “21 Jump Street” stunningly stayed afloat despite a similarly youth-centric appeal to 'Hunger Games,' losing less than half its audience from the big opening weekend. The film didn’t break the bank for Sony, and thanks to a spectacular marketing effort, they’re looking a sequel right in the eye. “The Lorax” held strong, spending possibly its last week as the year’s biggest domestic performer, though there’s still a strong outside chance it hits $200 million.
“The Hunger Games” took a huge bite out of several movies this weekend, but none took it harder than “John Carter.” The sci-fi family flick, which opened to less than a fifth of what “The Hunger Games” has pulled in thus far, was originally looking to save face and possibly limp to $100 million domestically, but that looks near impossible right about now. Disney recently admitted in a press release what many expected them to say while drowning in beer at the Billionaires’ Bar: $200 million are the expected losses from the film’s underperformance. Most within the company are eager to blame the film on the last regime, but this showing reflects poorly on just about everyone.
With “The Hunger Games” being the only top release of the weekend, it allowed “Act of Valor” to spend its surprising fifth weekend in the top five at the box office, though it’s clearly tapped out. “Project X” is also hanging around, with both of them expected to reach numbers of $70 and $55 million, respectively; big wins for both, though 'X' was notably top-heavy. What was surprising was the little release that came up behind them.
“October Baby” opened at only 390 locations but it was able to break into the top ten with ease, even though it wasn’t on anybody’s radar. The heartland drama concerns a well-to-do young white teenage girl who finds out her parents “rescued” her from her true mother, who was set to have an abortion instead. The Christian-themed fantasy movie was initially released last fall in thirteen theaters as propaganda supporting a bullshit “personhood” ballot, but Samuel Goldwyn Films purchased the independent release and employed a stronger strategy to get the film out there to audiences who understand that Christian films equal quality!
A slow death for everything else in the top ten, as “A Thousand Words” is actually still playing at 1,787 mostly empty theaters. “Safe House” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” are also finishing up their business, both as strong possibly over-performing hits. They were good bets for some action fans, Indonesian actioner “The Raid: Redemption,” though in limited release, capitalized on its buzz with $221k at fourteen locations, averaging a little under $16k per engagement. Sony Pictures Classics is planning a more ambitious-than-usual expansion, so expect that number to grow by leaps and bounds.
In other indie news, "The Deep Blue Sea" grossed $120k at twenty-nine theaters, though its per-screen was topped by a couple of holdovers. "Salmon Fishing In the Yemen" has steadily expanded, grabbing a strong $700k at 124 locations, confidently doubled from last weekend's sixty-two engagements. Documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" got a solid bump moving from six to twenty-seven locations with a $180k take, while "Footnote" took a strong step upwards with $164k at twenty four theaters. Pity poor "Musical Chairs," which debuted on nine screens and only managed a little over $9k. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.
1. Child Murder (Lionsgate) – $155 million
2. 21 Jump Street (Sony) – $21.3 million ($71 mil.)
3. Dr. Seuss Is Watching You Defile His Legacy (Universal) – $13.1 million ($177 mil.)
4. That Super-Expensive Disney Movie That No One Liked (Disney) – $5 million ($62 mil.)
5. Act Of Valor (Relativity) – $2.1 million ($66 mil.)
6. Project X (WB) – $2 million ($52 mil.)
7. A Thousand Words (Paramount) – $1.9 million ($15 mil.)
8. October Baby (Samuel Goldwyn) – $1.7 million ($1.9 mil.)
9. Safe Wings Hauser (Universal) – $1.4 million ($123 mil.)
10. Journey 2: The Other Josh Hutcherson Movie (WB) – $1.4 million ($97 mil.)