Let the games begin — again.
Igniting a global frenzy this weekend, starting in a handful of major overseas markets on Thursday, Lionsgate unleashes “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” with expectations at north of $150 million domestically, and a possible $300 million-plus weekend worldwide. Other observers think Stateside B.O. could be even higher at more than $160 million, which would easily beat the previous November record-holder, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”
Lionsgate launches “Catching Fire” at 4,163 domestic locations, most of which will have 8 p.m. screenings Thursday.
The “Hunger Games” sequel’s domestic prospects have been sky-high for several weeks, even before Disney-Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World” stampeded into theaters two weeks ago domestically.
Still, most pundits are hesitant to predict a specific amount for “Catching Fire,” though it is clear the film should outdo its predecessor’s $142 million opening in March 2012. Anything beyond that is less certain.
For instance, “Catching Fire” could potentially claim the second-highest domestic opening of all time, eclipsing “Iron Man 3″ ($174 million); but making such claims is tricky considering no other film has reached such heights in November. Currently, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” holds the largest three-day debut for this month, with $142 million.
To date, Disney-Marvel’s “The Avengers” has the largest domestic opening with $207.4 million while Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2″ has the biggest worldwide debut with $483 million.
“Catching Fire,” along with Warner-New Line’s “The Hobbit” sequel, “The Desolation of Smaug,” on Dec. 13, will provide the domestic box office with a shot of adrenaline — likely giving 2013 totals the jump needed to safely secure a record. (B.O. has been pacing in line with last year.)
Meanwhile, Disney is braving the “Hunger Games” bonanza by launching DreamWorks’ Vince Vaughn comedy “Delivery Man” at roughly 2,800 domestic playdates on Friday. The film is meant to provide counterprogramming mainly for adults, though “Hunger Games” also has a significant over-25 fanbase.
Internationally, “Catching Fire” — which bowed last weekend in Brazil, where it earned $6.3 million — launches day-and-date in 65 territories, including the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Spain and South Korea. (France and Italy follow next week.)
“Catching Fire” has a far greater international following now, meaning it should fall within the usual overseas-vs.-domestic gross splits. A Stateside cume of $408 million for the original “Hunger Games” nearly doubled the film’s international tally, at $283 million. That should be reversed for the sequel, a typical occurrence for many tentpoles.
Boosting the film’s prospects is star Jennifer Lawrence who, in addition to winning a best actress Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook,” has become Hollywood’s newest “It”-girl since the last “Hunger Games” was in theaters, with fans chattering about her haircuts and devil-may-care attitude.
As with the original, “Catching Fire” bows in Imax worldwide and other premium large-format locations. The PLF engagements will help lift the film’s bottom line, considering it doesn’t have 3D to goose grosses.
Hoping to ignite early word-of-mouth, Disney launches “Frozen” this weekend at the El Capitan in Los Angeles. Exclusive engagement begins Friday, with five showtimes each day and will feature ice-carving performances, as well as on-stage appearances by characters Anna and Elsa before the movie.
“Frozen” launches nationwide on Nov. 22.
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