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Top Ten Takeaways: Why ‘Hunger Games’ Dropped & Hurt ‘Interstellar’ & ‘Beyond the Lights’

Top Ten Takeaways: Why 'Hunger Games' Dropped & Hurt 'Interstellar' & 'Beyond the Lights'

This is hardly a failure. This resolutely downbeat movie is designed to support the more explosive finale, and by any measure it’s a hit. Lionsgate still gets two blockbusters instead of one. The year’s box office drop is now approaching 4% after an temporary October recovery. “Interstellar” was also a relative domestic disappointment.

I dig into “Mockingjay”‘s huge impact on the box office below in the takeaways.

The Top Ten

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire:; Metacritic:; est. budget: $125 million (based on 50% of cost of both parts)
$123,000,000 in 4,151 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $29,631; Cumulative: $123,000,000
2. Big Hero 6 (Buena Vista) Week 3; Last weekend #2
$20,086,000 (-42%) in 3,650 theaters (-123); PSA: $5,503; Cumulative: $135,708,000
3. Interstellar (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #3
$15,100,000 (-47%) in 3,415 theaters (-146); PSA: $4,422; Cumulative: $120,692,000
4. Dumb and Dumber To (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$13,820,000 (-62%) in 3,188 theaters (+34); PSA: $4,335; Cumulative: $57,473,000
5. Gone Girl (20th Century Fox) Week 8; Last weekend #5
$2,815 (-38%) in 1,609 theaters (-350); PSA: $1,750; Cumulative: $156,823,000
6. Beyond the Lights (Relativity) Week 2; Last weekend #4
$2,630,000  (-58%) in 1,766 theaters (-23); PSA: $1,489; Cumulative: $10,124,000
7. St. Vincent (Weinstein) Week 7; Last weekend #6
$2,354,000  (-37%) in 1,707 theaters (-625); PSA: $1,379; Cumulative: $36,613,000
8. Fury (Sony) Week 6; Last weekend # 7
$1,900,000  (-49%) in 1,720 theaters (-662); PSA: $1,105; Cumulative: $79,150,000
9. Birdman (Fox Searchlight) Week 6; Last weekend #10
$1,855,000 (-25%) in 862 theaters (+5); PSA: $2,152; Cumulative: $14,407,000
10. The Theory of Everything (Focus) Week 3; Last weekend #17
$1,500,000 (+204%) in 140 theaters (+99); PSA: $10,714; Cumulative: $2,796,000

The Takeaways

1. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”: Underwhelming Success 

Cut “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” some slack. Any film that beats the best previous weekend for the year by 25% deserves full credit. And that’s just the domestic haul so far. Overseas it has amassed $152 million (with a handful of large markets still to come), a notch better than the second film in the series last year. So let’s be real — this is a big hit.

As usual we’re dealing with heightened expectations. Consensus performance estimates fell between $140-160 million. Weather only affected a small region, and previous bifurcated sequels (“Harry Potter,” “Twilight Zone”) haven’t been hurt by this ploy. It’s not muted word of mouth, as the similar or better comparative results Friday (after Thursday’s early shows) and Saturday show no sign of significant audience displeasure. The CinemaScore did move from A to A-. 

This year’s scary factor: many top franchise/sequel/tentpole films have suffered a significant drop in interest this year among younger audiences. And while the earlier drops (“Transformers: Age of Extinction” came in at $107 million less than its 2012 predecessor for its full run, “Amazing Spider-Man 2” had a $60 million domestic shortfall) came from comic book/male-oriented films, “Mockingjay” boasts female appeal. One of the saving graces for 2014 has been the strength of pictures aimed at women films, continuing last year’s trend with “Catching Fire” and “Frozen.” (The first two “Hunger Games” films opened with about 60% women). So this falloff is wider than before.

Even if “Mockingjay” does fall below previous entries, with overseas results this should be a strong domestic and foreign hit for Lionsgate. For U.S. exhibitors, though, it is a real disappointment. With film rental cost for this far above normal (which benefits the studio), the loss of 22% of ticketbuyers from last year is a real loss. This comes on top of “Big Hero 6” (as expected) not replicating “Frozen”‘s success for Disney (although Dreamworks’ “Penguins of Madagascar” will help fill that void next week) and “Interstellar” falling far short of hopes. The shortfall is real. What is more worrisome is that it could be permanent. Studios have little incentive to change production patterns as international stays strong. There is no clear sign that exhibitor concerns will be shared by those who provide the bulk of the product.

2. “Mockingjay” dings “Interstellar”

“Mockingjay” hurt “Interstellar” this weekend, yet another reason why a fall opening may not have been the smartest move for Paramount. A 47% drop for “Interstellar” this weekend confirms that Christopher Nolan’s ambitious sci-fi epic, while it remains a worldwide hit, it is not likely to rebound ahead nor come close to grossing as much as the director’s three most recent efforts (“Inception” at $292 million came in the lowest). The domestic take is $120 domestic so far.

It’s easy to blame reaction to the film at this point — last year’s smash hit “Gravity” fell 30% its third weekend, “Inception” 37% (the latter film actually didn’t fall 47% until its 23rd weekend). But neither of those films had a tentpole juggernaut like “Mockingjay” to contend with this early. So to be fair,  some $6 million of that film’s massive gross could have come “Interstellar”s way and made this week look far better. 

Finally, tempting as it is to criticize the picture, “Interstellar” faces some of the same domestic audience recession issues, particularly among younger audiences, that made “Mockingjay” fall short of expectations.

3. “Hunger Games” hits holdovers

Big Hero 6” fell 42%, a tick ahead of previous early November animated hits “Wreck-It Ralph” and “A Christmas Carol” and is already up to $136 million –pre-holiday. It faces a strong test with “Penguins of Madagascar” opening this week (both films likely will reduce each others’ haul), but no question Disney’s early release has paid off. Curiously, though “Madagascar” has already opened in some countries, with $23 million in so far, Disney chose to hold off most of the rest of the world until Christmas.

The rest of the holdovers all, like “Interstellar,” were affected to some degree by “Mockingjay,” with bigger drops than recent weeks for most films. By far the biggest was “Dumb and Dumber To” (62%), which fell from first to fourth. Less expected was the 58% dip for “Beyond the Lights,” which seemed to have strong audience response (at A, another misleading Cinemascore result). But while it shares a strong female base with this week’s mighty “Hunger Games,” that likely is the biggest factor.

Gone Girl,” week 8, is still in the top five, despite already having lost half its initial theaters, and “St. Vincent” both dropped under 40% again. It pays not to be dependent on the younger crowd. “Fury” finally is about to disappear, with a 50% drop, mostly due to losing a fourth of its theaters. Brad Pitt’s World War II story will score a boost from still-to-open foreign territories, including Japan, Germany and Italy to ensure its global hit status.

Two Oscar contenders make Top Ten

“Birdman” and “The Theory of Everything” round out the Top Ten. More analysis on these narrower releases at Arthouse Audit.

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