"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," the sequel about teens fighting to the death in a totalitarian world, took in $161.1 million in weekend cinema sales for studio Lions Gate Entertainment.
Walt Disney Co.'s "Delivery Man," a comedy starring Vince Vaughn, was the only other new film in wide release, collecting $8.22 million to place fourth, Rentrak Corp. said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
"Catching Fire" was "a bit light," said Jordon Laycob, manager of the Marsico Flexible Capital Fund in Denver. "The real test will be how it holds up into next weekend." He said the film's gross was about $10 million short of the firm's estimate.
The movie, with Jennifer Lawrence returning as heroine Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as her co-combatant Peeta Mellark, is poised to dominate the box office for three weeks and may earn Lions Gate $400 million or more through its share of ticket sales, DVDs, pay TV and free TV, the estimate of Benjamin Mogil, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co.
The total reported by Lions Gate included $25.3 million in sales from Thursday night showings that began at 8 p.m., the company said. That means it's not directly comparable to the original "Hunger Games," which had $152.5 million in opening receipts.
"Marvel's The Avengers," "Iron Man 3" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" have the three-biggest opening weekends in U.S. and Canadian cinemas.
The new film's futuristic setting, the appeal of the young characters, including Ms. Lawrence, and a story about rebellion against an oppressive government are attracting a wide swath of movie fans. Sales also benefitted from screenings in Imax theaters, where prices are higher, and a lack of competition from new releases.
International sales totaled $146.6 million.
The 146-minute movie is showing in all of Imax Corp.'s 650- plus screens for three weeks, including almost 350 in the U.S. and Canada. BoxOffice.com projected $166 million in domestic weekend sales. Lions Gate faces little competition until "The Hobbit" sequel opens on Dec. 13, according to Phil Contrino, its chief analyst.
"Catching Fire" picks up where "The Hunger Games" left off, with Everdeen and Mellark touring the fictional nation of Panem after winning the 74th Hunger Games. They inadvertently become symbols of rebellion and are forced to compete again, this time against more deadly foes -- former winners like themselves. Donald Sutherland again stars as President Snow, and Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci return in supporting roles. Ms. Lawrence, 23, won the best-actress Oscar this year for "Silver Linings Playbook."
"Catching Fire" garnered an 89% favorable rating on RottenTomatoes.com, which aggregates critics' reviews.
"The studio squeezes the franchise for all it's worth," Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times. "'Catching Fire' isn't a great work of art but it's a competent, at times exciting movie."
The best prospects for growth over the original film are outside the U.S., where sequels tend to do better, according to Mr. Mogil. Foreign sales may be as much as $450 million, he said. The first picture generated $283.2 million internationally.
The studio has scheduled a third movie from "The Hunger Games" for release next November and the fourth a year later, according to Box Office Mojo.
"Delivery Man," the other new wide release, was projected by BoxOffice.com to take in $9 million. Vaughn stars as an underachiever who learns he fathered hundreds of children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic years earlier. He has to decide whether to come forward when some of them sue to find out his identity. It got a 37% favorable rating by RottenTomatoes.
Mr. Vaughn "shuffles through this brazenly manipulative ode to fatherhood with doughy passivity," Jeannette Catsoulis wrote in the New York Times.
"Frozen," the new animated feature from Disney, opened in one theater before going into wide release next week. The movie, about a princess who sets off on an epic journey to find her sister, the Snow Queen, features the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff.
Among returning films, "Thor: The Dark World," the superhero sequel from Disney's Marvel studios, took in $14.1 million to place second. "The Best Man Holiday," about college friends reuniting after 15 years, placed third, with $12.5 million for Universal Pictures, after its debut last weekend.
"Free Birds," the Thanksgiving-themed animated movie from Relativity Media featuring the voices of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson, placed fifth, taking in $5.3 million.
Weekend revenue for the top 10 films rose 10% to $218 million from the year-earlier period, Rentrak said. Revenue year to date is down 2% to $9.51 billion.
~ Bloomberg News ~