This image released by Lionsgate shows Donald Sutherland as President Snow in a scene from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Murray Close)
LOS ANGELES — Movie theaters got scorched this weekend as “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” blazed its way to the top of the box office, easily beating the previous weekend’s champion, “Thor: The Dark World,” and recording the highest-grossing November opening of all time.
The Jennifer Lawrence-starring sequel to last year’s “The Hunger Games” raked in an estimated $161.1 million, according to Lionsgate, the film’s distributor. The sci-fi thriller fell short of beating “Iron Man 3” for the best opening of the year. That popular Marvel franchise amassed $174 million on its first weekend.
Still, “Catching Fire” took in enough to handily beat the previous November record of $142.8 million held by “Twilight Saga: New Moon.” It was also enough to secure for the film the No. 4 spot on the list of top opening weekends of all time, just below “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” ($169.2 million) and above “The Dark Knight Rises” ($160.9 million). Marvel’s “The Avengers” holds the No. 1 spot with a stunning $207 million. (These figures are not adjusted for inflation.)
The first “Hunger Games” enjoyed a $152 million opening weekend, and it looks as though the sequel’s greater success can partly be credited to the fact that it’s drawing a broader audience. Exit-poll data show that the weekend audience had 12 percent more males than did the original film’s audience, raising the proportion of males to a healthy 41 percent. The audience was evenly split between viewers over and under 25.
It was a very strong start, even if it did not meet early speculation based on pre-release audience surveys that the film would topple the year-to-date record held by “Iron Man 3.” And “Catching Fire” is hot not just in the United States: It already has a massive cumulative international take of $307.7 million. That’s almost twice as much as “The Hunger Games” drew in the same time period. The film enjoyed its biggest boost in Germany, where its gross was three times as large as the first film’s.
“Our international growth was huge this time around, and we really focused on it with our great partners overseas,” David Spitz, Lionsgate’s executive vice president of distribution, said Sunday.
Heading into the weekend, there also had been speculation that “Thor: The Dark World” might not nab the No. 2 spot because its audience was thought to be similar to that of “Catching Fire,” and also because of the surprise showing of last weekend’s No. 2 film, “The Best Man Holiday.” Distributed by Universal, the heartwarming rom-com was projected to debut with a moderate $17 million but went on to trample all expectations by raking in $30.6 million and an average grade of A-plus from moviegoers, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
“Thor” prevailed, however, taking in a decent $14.1 million. That represented a 61 percent drop from its second weekend, when it took in $38.5 million. Its cumulative gross now stands at $167.8 million.
“The Best Man Holiday” experienced a 58 percent drop from its opening weekend to collect $12.5 million and finish No. 3 with a nice cumulative gross of $50.4 million.
The only other wide-release opening this weekend was “Delivery Man.” The DreamWorks picture, starring Vince Vaughn as an underachiever who suddenly discovers he has fathered hundreds of children as a sperm donor, took in a dismal $8.2 million and received a cringe-worthy 36 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
By comparison, “Catching Fire” received an A rating on CinemaScore and an 89 percent “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes.
“The Hunger Games” franchise is based on the best-selling trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins and imagines a future world ruled over by a despotic government that pits children against one another in death matches aimed at instilling fear in a restless population on the verge of rebellion.
Lawrence is the series’ reluctant hero. The actress won an Academy Award this year for her work in David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” and since then her profile has been steadily rising. She is currently considered among Hollywood’s hottest stars.
Audiences are responding to her as much as they are to their love of the franchise and their love of love in general. “Catching Fire” explores the romance between Lawrence’s character, Katniss Everdeen, and her Hunger Games compatriot Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson.
“It was great, fantastic. Pretty much stuck to the book, which was what I expected,” Bianca Jacques said as she left a Friday afternoon screening of the film at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. “My favorite part was that the romance between Katniss and Peeta becomes real. I can’t wait for the next one.”
The final book in “The Hunger Games” trilogy will be divided into two installments to be released in 2014 and 2015.
©2013 Los Angeles Times
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