There was a lot of talk on whether or not "The Hunger Games" and the Hunger Games franchise could be the next Harry Potter.
It looks like Lionsgate bet on a winner.
"The Hunger Games" pulled in $152.5 million on its opening weekend, not only creating the largest non-holiday weekend opening ever, but the third best opening of all time. Even more, it's third to sequels -- "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" and "The Dark Knight" -- making it a record-holder for a non-sequel film.
Nothing else at the box office this weekend even had a chance. The action comedy "21 Jump Street" dropped 44 percent to $20.5 million, according to The Numbers, while Walt Disney's "John Carter" continued its massive flop, losing 63 percent of its previous week's audience to drop to $5.1 million.
"Hunger Games" got a boost from midnight shows, which nearly topped $20 million, leading some to speculate that the film could gross a record $130 million in conservative estimates. But the film stayed strong all weekend, pulling in a whopping $37,000 per theater.
Even better for Lionsgate, the studio didn't spend massive amounts of money on the film like other potential blockbusters get. In fact, the budget for "Hunger Games" was $78 million, meaning it has nearly doubled its budget in the opening weekend alone. By contrast, "John Carter" cost Disney $250 million, and after two weeks, has grossed just $62.4 million. That film was dubbed by Disney in its advertisements as the first major blockbuster of the year. Instead, it became the first high-profile dud.
"Hunger Games" got a boost not only from a savvy marketing campaign, but also from the Suzanne Collins book series it's based on.
This was just the third film directed by Gary Ross, a writer better known for his work on projects such as "Dave," "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit." He also directed "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit," with "Pleasantville" grossing just over $40 million in 1998 (just making back its budget), and "Seabiscuit" grossing $148 million in 2003, nearly doubling its budget.
Lionsgate was desperately looking for a hit after years of misses. The last film it released that grossed more than $100 million was "Saw 3D" in October 2010, and "The Expendables" before that. Those films grossed $133.3 million and $274.5 million respectively. "The Expendables" is Lionsgate's highest-grossing film of all time, just ahead of the documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," and "Hunger Games" is expected to exceed that.
Having a major film franchise can only boost the worth of Lionsgate, following the lead of Warner Bros., who received boosts for major franchises as well like Batman and Harry Potter. Warner is going to be suffering big-time in 2013 without some new franchises, first with the loss of Harry Potter and the end of the Batman trilogy this summer with "The Dark Knight Rises."
With just one weekend of "Hunger Games," Lionsgate is also in the running competing with the larger studios in early market share. With just three films released so far this year, Lionsgate has grossed $213 million and captured 9 percent of overall market share in North America, according to The Numbers. It could move into third place as early as next weekend past Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox, both which have around $277 million each.
Universal is leading early on with $404.8 million from six films, pulling in more than 17 percent of the market share. That's led by "Dr. Suess's The Lorax" and "Safe House," both of which combined to earn $275 million. "Hunger Games" should surpass "Lorax" as the top film of 2012 by the end of the week.
Last year, Lionsgate was the No. 10 studio with just 1.8 percent market share on revenue of $183.4 million through 12 movies. Paramount Pictures won last year with just under $2 billion from 23 films.
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