‘The Hunger Games’ Countdown: Will The Fans Bring In The Box Office Glory?

‘The Hunger Games’ Countdown: Will The Fans Bring In The Box Office Glory?

Dec 14, 2011

Hunger Games at the Box OfficeOdds are a number of you that check out this biweekly Countdown are hardcore Hunger Games fans, stemming from devotion to the source material. But now that Lionsgate is taking the book to the big screen, we need to reevaluate the story’s potential entirely.

Sure, we all have high hopes that Lionsgate will do the book justice with a stellar film, but, there’s no ignoring the fact that Lionsgate is a company and a companies need to make some money. The studio has recently hit some harder times with their latest wide releases, Conan the Barbarian and Abduction, which both came in way under par at the box office. Even worse, Warrior only lasted eight weeks in theaters and accumulated just over $13.5 million when it deserved far more.

Just recently Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns visited CNBC to talk about the potential merger with Summit Entertainment and admitted, “I’ve seen some of the press reports talking about, oh, it’d be levered etc.,” but affirms any acquisition would certainly not involve a lot of debt. Then, while he does warn buyers against buying stock for the sake of just one film, he does go on to boast that Hunger Games is a property with tons of potential, something that was exemplified by the hype surrounding the release of the trailer.

So now we’re left with the question, how much will The Hunger Games actually make? As mentioned in the Thanksgiving edition of the Countdown, I’m putting my money on the franchise becoming enough of a hit to seriously solidify the studio (or perhaps a Lionsgate/Summit conglomeration) as a major player. While I do write a weekly box office prediction piece for Shockya.com, I’m admittedly still learning when it comes to examining a film’s moneymaking potential, especially as compared to these seasoned movie news and box office reporters. Check out what the best of the best have to say about The Hunger Games’ box office haul come opening weekend, the obvious comparison to The Twilight Saga, the series’ potential as a whole and much more.

The Hunger Games TrilogyThe Hunger Games: Potential Franchise? – Keith Simanton, Managing Editor of IMDb

It’s hard to project what an entire series may make because it entirely depends upon whether or not the first movie delivers what its fans desire. In 2007, New Line and Warner Bros. hoped that Chris Weitz’s The Golden Compass, based upon the first installment of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, would evolve into a Lord of the Rings series. But, after the film faced controversy over its implied anti-Catholic stance and opened to middling reviews and tepid box-office receipts ($25.7 million), any lingering thoughts of a sequel were forgotten. The Hunger Games books have a much broader base of support, however, and parallels between them and the Twilight series are plentiful. As books, both are successful young adult series featuring a teenage female protagonist caught in the middle of a love triangle. As films, both come from mid-major studios and both, at least initially, lack any significant, pricey star power.

Conversely, while the romantic elements are the focus in Twilight, they take a back seat to the futuristic action in The Hunger Games. Katniss is initially more worried about survival than any burgeoning romance with either Peeta or Gale. The games themselves will give the film more cross-over appeal with teenage boys but, if director Gary Ross makes them too violent, they may also put-off the requisite tween girl obsession that helped make The Twilight Saga one of the most successful franchises ever. The first Twilight movie earned $192.8 million domestically (U.S. and Canada) and another $200 million overseas in 2008. Both of these figures could be reachable for the first Hunger Games movie, depending of course, on the strength of Lionsgate’s marketing push and, to a lesser extent, the quality of the movie.  The potential revenue for the second and third installments, however, will be based at least partly on the reception for the first entry and the early word on the quality of its successors. Remember, at one point, everyone thought Happy Feet Two was a good idea.

Twilight at the Box OfficeHunger Games vs. Twilight and a Typically Mediocre Month – Dave Davis, JoBlo.com

There certainly seems to be an expectation that The Hunger Games will be the next Twilight-sized phenomenon movie franchise. But aside from being based on a series of young adult books and featuring a teenage girl in a love triangle with two hunky boys, they have very little in common - and that will be the studio's real challenge. With strong talent before the camera and a Hollywood veteran behind it, the quality of the movie itself shouldn't be an issue. The overall success could simply come down to how the studio markets it.

The Hunger Games is obviously much heavier on grim action-drama than sparkly vampires clashing with dodgy CG wolves, but more notably it lacks the steamy gazes and melodramatic romance of the Twilight series. So the studio will have to work extra hard to pull in the same number of females with a futuristic scenario far more nightmarish than dreamy. Lionsgate is probably expecting a front-loaded box office comparable to Twilight as the core fans rush for opening weekend, but they undoubtedly want to expand their paying audience beyond the book's readers (after all, the movie cost $80 million plus at least another $40 million in advertising, and the intended three sequels will likely cost even more). Savvy genre fans may simply dismiss The Hunger Games as "Battle Royale meets The Running Man" (with a scoop of The Blood of Heroes), but that high concept could also appeal to more mainstream moviegoers who want thrills and pretty faces, and don't know or care about the story's YA novel origins. Again, marketing will be the key; Lionsgate had best spend that dough wisely (especially after non-starters like The Spirit, Abduction, Conan the Barbarian, etc.).

March is generally a slow month (where Battle: Los Angeles’ $35 million opening was considered a success) with an occasional Alice in Wonderland breakout, and although The Hunger Games doesn't really have any competition aiming at a similar crowd (John Carter hits two weeks prior), I have a hard time imagining it could open to more than $70 million (around 300's March debut), likely topping out before $200 million. But Katniss is a survivor, and could prove me wrong.

The Hunger Games FansThe Fan vs. Non-Fan Challenge - Edward Douglas, ComingSoon.net

As someone who tries to predict the box office year-round, The Hunger Games certainly has the potential to be one of the more interesting box office stories of 2012.  On the one hand, it's a huge phenomenon due to the popularity of the books, and I'm confident that anyone who has read the books is excited to see all the movies. I'm confident that those who've read the books will be out opening weekend, but I'm not as confident that the movie will connect with non-readers at least right off the bat.  It's still very early but because the first trailer focused on the drama and relationships and didn't show any of the action in the arena, the movie might not be the must-see event movie it needs to be a success. Lionsgate still has time to work on it, but right now, I'm thinking the movie will open somewhere in the $50 to 60 million range.

The thing is that if the movie is any good then those who see it who haven't read the books will likely tell their friends, which will potentially build up the movie's audience so that the second movie, Catching Fire, can open significantly bigger in its November 2013 release, setting things up for a massive finale. 

The important thing though is that people have to get their friends to read the books because once you do it's impossible not to look forward to the movies and Lionsgate has three months to figure out a way to get non-readers excited.

You can read more of my thoughts on the box office prospects of The Hunger Games (including my early predictions) over at my Weekend Warrior blog at ComingSoon.net

300 Movie PosterOpening Weekend and Potential Long Legs – Katey Rich, CinemaBlend.com

The obvious comparison for The Hunger Games and its box office future is The Twilight Saga, but it's worth remembering that the mega-franchise had a small start before growing into the powerhouse it is now. The first film in the series, titled simply Twilight, made $192 million domestic - a huge amount of money for something made on such a small budget, but nothing compared to what came after. Most impressively, it made $69 million of that on opening weekend, meaning that for the first film in the franchise, it was the die-hard fans already out there who made them most of their cash.

The Hunger Games may be able to do even better - it's more about action scenes than a love triangle, and could draw in male audiences in a way that the Twilight movies never have. So while The Hunger Games will inevitably open huge no matter what - expect it to beat Twilight's $69 million and likely do even better - it'll be in the following weeks, when we see if it builds on its audience, that we truly know if The Hunger Games is going to be gigantic. The ideal would be a box office something like 300's, which was another March opening building off a big fan base from the books. That Zack Snyder film opened to $96 million and went on to make nearly half a billion worldwide. I have no doubt that's the dream Lionsgate executives are hoping for, and if they keep up the excellent marketing campaign, they might just be able to reach it. 

Mirror Mirror, John Carter and Wrath of the TitansThe Grand Opening and the Immediate Weeks to Follow - Bill Bonfanti, HSX.com & FilmGo.net

Fueled by a fervent fan base, the film should post a strong opening weekend and with some positive word of mouth (and a little bit of luck), it could remain strong throughout the month of April. The film essentially has five weeks to prove itself before it gets lost among the summer releases, officially kicking off on May 4th with the release of Marvel’s highly anticipated superhero ensemble flick, The Avengers

The success of The Hunger Games beyond its opening weekend will largely depend on how Lionsgate markets the film to those who are unfamiliar with the books, what other films are in theatres at the time, word of mouth and least of all, critics’ reviews. As someone who has never read the books, I can tell you that the trailer inspired a marginal amount of interest from me.  I kind of want to see the film, but it’s certainly not something I’m drooling with anticipation to see. I’m guessing that Lionsgate is going for a slow burn here with more action packed trailers arriving closer to the Hunger Games release date. Unfortunately, they are not great at marketing their films in general, which may cause The Hunger Games to not meet its full box office potential.

Although the release schedule can change drastically before its anticipated release date on March 23rd, as of now, The Hunger Games will have some competition on its opening. The weekend prior, Relativity Media unleashes its Snow White film Mirror, Mirror but I expect this to be one of the biggest bombs of the year.  It will also have to contend with the third weekend of Disney’s John Carter which will likely eat into its opening potential a bit. The film’s second weekend will be its true test when it competes with Warner Bros.’ Wrath of the Titans. Titans will distract many young males who may have otherwise given The Hunger Games a look after hearing good things about it. For the record, I don’t think that Titans is going to perform as well as the first film.  Beyond that, it should be smooth sailing the rest of April. That is if the film is anywhere as good as the book it is based on. My guess is that it will be.

Back to needless comparisons, I don’t believe that The Hunger Games will open as high as the first Twilight film ($69.6 million) but it should outperform the opening weekend of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief ($31.2 million), another film based on a best-selling series aimed at young adults. My guess is that The Hunger Games will debut somewhere in the middle of this range and enjoy an opening weekend take of about $50 million. Traders on the Hollywood Stock Exchange currently have The Hunger Games (HSX: HGAME $184.70) priced at $184.70 per share, meaning that they expect the film to gross $184.7 million after four weekends in theatres. I believe this estimate is too high and think the film will likely gross about $125 million during its first four weekends with a total of about $145 million by the time it exits theatres. I expect the film to be a solid earner for Lionsgate that will lead to even more lucrative sequels that could collect in the neighborhood of $250 million each.

Happy double digits day! There are 99 days until the release. The Hunger Games Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday.

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