Welcome to the world of superlatives. After going from one box-office highlight to another, 2012 reached an early peak with the tremendous overperformance by this weekend’s unchallenged #1 film, The Hunger Games. Its record-breaking $155 million opening helped the Top 12 cume to surpass $200 million ($206.9 million) for the first time ever in March. It represents an unbelievable increase of 111.6% over the previous frame (the biggest weekend-to-weekend Top 12 increase since December 2008!) and not only stands as the biggest March weekend on record, but also the 9th-biggest Top 12 gross of all-time. The Top 12 was also up 90.6% over the same weekend last year when Diary of the Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules took the top spot. The numbers put this March well on their way to $900 million and by far the biggest March gross ever. The Hunger Games’ breakout and the overall huge box-office might finally make studios realize what they already should have after 300’s and Alice in Wonderland’s success – that March is a great time of the year to release a major tentpole.
The Hunger Games is of course the box-office story of the weekend and, when all is said and done, might very well be the box-office story of the year. Gary Ross’ critically well-received adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian young adult novel amassed $155 million over the three-day period leading to a $37,467 average from 4,137 theatres (second-biggest ever for a 1,000+ theatres release and the biggest ever without 3D boost). The opening weekend alone makes it the biggest film ever domestically for distributor Lionsgate Films with their previous biggest film to date being the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 ($119.2 million). The Hunger Games given them a franchise that puts the studio on the map in an even bigger way than the Twilight franchise did it with Summit Entertainment. It finally shows that Lionsgate’s success can stem from more than just horror movies or Tyler Perry flicks. The Hunger Games’ opening weekend did break quite a number of records which all deserve to be mentioned and taken a closer look at, in order to fully appreciate what might end up as one of the most impressive box-office performances of this decade.
It all started with a $68 million opening Friday, making it the 5th-biggest opening day ever, right behind The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’s $68.5 million Wednesday. Around $19.8 million of that gross stemmed from midnight showings. Subtracting those, its opening day is above those of the Twilight films and very much in the range of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 3. Needless to say that it eclipsed the record of the biggest opening day ever for non-sequel previously held by Alice in Wonderland ($40.8 million) by over 66%. However, Friday was certainly not the most impressive day of its weekend performance. In a surprising turn of events, The Hunger Games declined just 25% on Saturday for a $51 million gross, beating The Dark Knight’s Saturday number and falling just $0.3 million short of Spider-Man 3’s record Saturday. That might change when the actual are released. What’s even more impressive is that it increased over the midnights-less Friday gross, a feat rarely achieved by such überblockbusters as The Hunger Games nowadays, showing not just less frontloading than usual, but also the early effects of good word-of-mouth. The good WoM of the critically well-received blockbuster is further shown by its terrific “A” CinemaScore. Among those under 18 years, the CinemaScore is actually “A+” which is a promising sign for its future box-office performance. A projected 29.4% decline on Sunday put its weekend gross at $155 million, making it not only the 4th-biggest opening weekend of all-time (surpassing all Twilight movies as well as Spider-Man 3), but also crushing Alice in Wonderland’s record for the biggest non-sequel opening ($116.1 million). It is important to keep in mind that it took eight years for Spider-Man’s non-sequel record to be broken and that it happened by less than $2 million. The Hunger Games simply obliterated the record and set a bar that most likely won’t be surpassed for years to come. Even more impressive is the fact that it achieved all these milestones without actually having 3D to boost its numbers.
When asking what went right for The Hunger Games so that it broke out in such a remarkable fashion, the answer is simple – everything. Of course being an adaptation of a wildly popular novel series is a huge bonus, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success on this scale for the first movie in a franchise. Just look at the already great openings for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ($90.3 million) and Twilight ($69.6 million). These franchises’ opening numbers grew as the series progressed. In particular Twilight could hugely benefit from an expansion of its fanbase. The Hunger Games was just the right movie at the right moment. Lionsgate surprised everyone by building an impressive marketing campaign for the film and hyping it ever since he cast announcements. Previously, Lionsgate struggled to successfully market films outside of its usual horror or Tyler Perry cash cows, but with The Hunger Games they did everything right – showing enough to get people hyped, but not too much in order to keep them curious (notice how you don’t see much of the actual Games in the trailers!). On top of that, the release date was perfect. The other studios were obviously scared enough of The Hunger Games and released just a few major movies in the weeks leading up to its release. In particular the overcrowded market for R-rated movies made the gap for PG-13 fare very noticeable. The Hunger Games, the first big PG-13 film since the release of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows successfully filled that gap. The Twilight movies have shown everyone how huge a movie can become if it successfully taps into female demographics. The Hunger Games went a step further showing the effects of getting that demographics without actually alienating the men. Indeed, 61% of the weekend audiences for the film were female, but this is still a much lower percentage than for the Twilight movies. To top that, the majority of the weekend audiences’ was above 25-year old, showing major adult appeal and indicating better-than-expected legs in the future. Due to being the sole huge and hyped release of the spring season, The Hunger Games became the kind of an event movie that you usually only see in May, July or the holiday season. It was everywhere in the media, thus boosting awareness, the sales of the books and, in turn, the interest for the movie. The last-minute addition of a one-week IMAX run at over 250 IMAX locations was the icing on the cake.
Next weekend the four-quadrant film will face fierce competition from Mirror Mirror and Wrath of the Titans with the latter coming off a $163 million-grossing predecessor. Losing its IMAX screens to Wrath of the Titans will certainly be a bit of a blow to The Hunger Games. A weekend later Titanic 3D will take a stab at the film’s female and adult audiences. Once it can survive these two weekends, the must-see film of this spring should have an smooth sailing throughout April. It is usual for the first film of a huge franchise to have pretty solid legs. Looking at its internal weekend multiplier, its CinemaScore and its audiences, it is fair to expect a multiplier of 2.5 or higher. It should land somewhere in the $390-410 million range, making it one of the most impressive box-office performers of all-time.
Coming in as a very distant second, 21 Jump Street could benefit from being a solid counterprogramming choice to The Hunger Games as well as from its decent WoM. The R-rated comedy delivered the best hold in the Top 12 by sliding 41.3% to $21.3 million and a running total of $71.1 million after ten days. The movie is now tracking $2.5 million ahead of another Jonah Hill-starring R-rated blockbuster, Superbad. With the upcoming weekend bringing nothing new in the comedy department, 21 Jump Street should enjoy another solid hold before having a large chunk bitten out of its audiences by American Reunion over the first weekend of April. From then on, it will depend on how well it will rebound during April and how much comedy flicks like The Five-Year Long Engagement and The Three Stooges will affect it. Right now it is looking to finish with $115-125 million which should make this the 2nd-biggest R-rated movie of 2012 to date and the biggest R-rated comedy since The Hangover: Part II last year.
Losing one spot, Dr. Suess’ The Lorax dropped another 42.5% for a weekend take of $13.1 million and a running total of $177.3 million. The film’s opening was undeniably tremendous, but its run surprisingly disappointing given the lack of competition and its apparently great Wom as indicated by the “A” CinemaScore. Obviously it suffered from losing IMAX screens to John Carter and, this weekend, to The Hunger Games as well as from The Hunger Games just being a behemoth that appeals to all demographics. It won’t be able t catch a breath next weekend either with Mirror Mirror being the first family-oriented movie since The Lorax’ release. The Lorax is now tracking $13 million behind Universal’s other animated blockbuster, Despicable Me and the gap will widen over the next weeks. Nonetheless, nothing can undermine its already tremendous performance. If it suffers 40+% drops over the next two weekends, though, $200 million might suddenly become a struggle. Right now, I don’t see that happening and project it to land in the $205-215 million range, making it the 2nd-biggest animated film not to be released by Disney or DreamWorks.
John Carter’s already pitiful performance at the box-office hit a new low this weekend as it lost its PG-13 audiences and its IMAX screens to The Hunger Games. The combination of these two blows led to the worst decline in the Top 12 as the film stumbled 63.1% to #4 of the weekend and a $5 million three-day gross. The current cume for the $250 million production stands at $62.3 million, a number that The Hunger Games surpassed on its opening day without the 3D premium. At this point, even the relatively solid overseas returns probably won’t help the Disney flick to break even. Wrath of the Titans should take away its remaining 3D screens next weekend and further directly target its audiences. The film will soon start shedding theatres like crazy and will crawl to $70 million before it completely vanishes from theatres.
Act of Valor, on the other hand, continues to show an impressive longevity. It held on to the 5th spot of the box-office with a $2.1 million weekend and a 44.8% dip in audiences. The R-rated action movie that some described as little more than just a big budget recruitment video surpassed expectations which had it at dropping hard after its solid opening and has yet to decline 50% or more on a weekend. With its running total at $65.9 million, it should get close to getting an opening-to-total multiplier of 3. With little direct competition ahead, I expect it to find its way to a $71 million total.
Warner Bros.’ “found footage” comedy Project X slightly rebounded after its disastrous hold last weekend and lost 51.8% of its audiences in its 4th weekend. A $2 million weekend cume pushed its total beyond the $50 million mark to $51.8 million. That makes Project X the 8th R-rated movie this year to pass $50 million. With American Reunion’s release looming, Project X’ successful days are counted and it will leave the theatres with $55 million in its pockets, more than enough to justify the planned follow-up.
Dropping a slot to #7, the Eddie Murphy flop A Thousand Words made $1.9 million over the weekend (down 47%) for a running total of $14.9 million. There isn’t much gas left in its tank, but it is actually already surprising how “well” it performed thus far given the absolutely awful reviews. It will finish with $19 million.
The sole somewhat significant opener this weekend other than The Hunger Games was October Baby. This Samuel Goldwyn release gathered $1.7 million from just 390 venues for a PTA of $4,405. The movie tried itself as counter-programming to The Hunger games and appealed to Christian audiences that might be turned off by The Hunger Games’ kids-on-kids violence. The abortion-themed drama should be able to achieve solid legs if you look at the performances of similar films such as Fireproof and Courageous. With little in its way appealing to these specific audiences, it should manage a formidable multiplier and end up with around $7-8 million which is likely quite a bit higher than the film’s budget.
Down to #9, Safe House decreased 48.5% to $1.4 million this weekend with its running total standing at $122.6 million. It is now mere $0.2 million away from passing The Vow’s current total (both film opened on the same weekend to $40+ million with The Vow taking the top spot). Furthermore it is now tracking less than $5 million behind American Gangster and keeps gaining on it. Safe House remains a prime example of how a well-marketed R-rated action movie can still deliver the goods at the box-office. It will end up with $129 million in the bank.
Settling for the 10th spot this weekend, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, starring The Hunger Games’ male lead Josh Hutcherson, continued its long trek to $100 million. The film dipped 42.5% for $1.4 million. That puts its current total at $97.2 million. The gap between it and its predecessor, Journey to the Center of the Earth, keeps getting smaller at a rapid pace, but it is still ahead of it by over $5 million. The movie will find its way (or it will be pushed) to $100 million by the end of its surprising performance.
Lionsgate’s Casa De Mi Padre couldn’t benefit from the studio having a huge release this weekend (apparently no numbers shifting has taken place). The Spanish-language Will Ferrell starrer added 93 theatres this weekend, bringing the total count of its venues to 475, but it still dropped 51.9% to $1.1 million and #11 of the box-office. With $3.9 million in the bank, there doesn’t seem to be much more to come. The cinematic oddity should wrap up its run with around $6 million.
At last, This Means War took the 12th spot this weekend with a $1 million gross (down 53.3%). With the running total of $52.3 million, the $65 million high-pedigree flick is clearly a disappointment domestically, but should turn into a tidy profit worldwide. In North America, I expect it to finish with $54 million.