Thanksgiving was celebrated this past week in the United States. Although the American economy remains in a seemingly never-ending rut, Lionsgate has much to be thankful for, financially speaking: on the weekend of November 29-December 1, 2013, Francis Lawrence's $110-130 million-budgeted The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth, added another $74.5 million from 4,163 North American locations according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo.
Even if Lionsgate's estimates are (once again) off by a couple of percentage points, that's a remarkable hold for a sequel. In fact, Catching Fire was down only 53 percent compared to its first weekend, which included $25+ million from Thursday night and Friday midnight screenings. And let's not forget that the Hunger Games sequel blew off some heavy-duty box office steam earlier on Thanksgiving week, collecting an estimated $35.6 million on Wednesday and Thursday.
For comparison's sake: From 2009-2012, three Twilight sequels, all of which starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, opened in mid-to-late November. Chris Weitz's New Moon plummeted 70 percent on its second weekend out, and so did Bill Condon's Breaking Dawn Part 1. Condon's Breaking Dawn Part 2 was down 69 percent. And in late March 2012, the Gary Ross-directed The Hunger Games was down 62 percent on its second weekend.
'Catching Fire': Fourth best second weekend ever? Biggest five-day Thanksgiving weekend ever?
Officially -- and if studio estimates are on target -- Catching Fire had the fourth best second weekend ever at the North American box office, trailing only:
- Joss Whedon's The Avengers ($103.05 million), featuring an all-star cast that included Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Robert Downey Jr;
- James Cameron's Avatar ($75.61 million), featuring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver;
- Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight ($75.16 million), starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Aaron Eckhart.
Note: Both The Avengers and Avatar had the advantage of box-office-boosting 3D surcharges.
Now, once inflation is factored in, as it always should, Catching Fire is tenth on the list, also trailing:
- Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco;
- Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon's Shrek 2, featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, and Julie Andrews;
- George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, with Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman;
- Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, with Jim Carrey;
- Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, with Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, and Orlando Bloom.
Having scored $110.1 million from Wed.-Sun., Catching Fire has also officially broken the five-day Thanksgiving weekend record, easily surpassing the $82.4 million earned by Chris Columbus' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone a dozen years ago. Minor detail: Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, the first Harry Potter movie raked in approximately $117 million in 2013 dollars. If inflation didn't exist, studio publicists and their media lackeys would have to invent it.
'Catching Fire' to become the biggest 2013 blockbuster?
What seemed unlikely upon first glance -- sequels tend to have relatively steep drops on their second weekend -- is now a strong possibility. As a result of its excellent hold, Catching Fire may not only surpass The Hunger Games' $408.01 million earned in the U.S. and Canada -- but also become the biggest blockbuster of 2013, surpassing both Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's Despicable Me 2, and Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man 3. The latter film, 2013's biggest hit to date, brought in $409.01 million earlier this year.
Catching Fire's current domestic cume is an estimated $296.5 million. Unless Lionsgate's estimates are way off target, the film will pass the $300 million milestone at the North American box office on Monday. Internationally, where Thanksgiving isn't a (box-office-boosting) holiday, Catching Fire has pulled in $276.5 million to date.
'Catching Fire' movie cast
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire stars:
- Jennifer Lawrence -- Best Actress Oscar nominee for Debra Granik's Winter's Bone and Oscar winner for David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, and in the near future to be seen with Bradley Cooper in Susanne Bier's Serena;
- Josh Hutcherson -- Julianne Moore and Annette Bening's difficult son and Mia Wasikowska's brother in Lisa Cholodenko's 2010 indie hit The Kids Are All Right, and, along with Dwayne Johnson and Vanessa Hudgens, one of the adventurers in Brad Peyton's Journey 2: The Mysterious Island;
- Liam Hemsworth -- the younger brother of Chris Hemsworth (Thor: The Dark World), Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger's co-star in The Expendables 2, and Miley Cyrus' leading man in The Last Song.
The Catching Fire cast also features Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Doubt), Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, The Lovely Bones), Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Messenger).
In addition to: Alan Ritchson (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Willow Shields (A Fall from Grace, currently in pre-production), Jena Malone (Sucker Punch), Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge), Lynn Cohen (Munich), Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction), Toby Jones (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Nelson Ascencio, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Jack Quaid, Lenny Kravitz, Taylor St. Clair, and Jeffrey Wright.
Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Oblivion) and Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire) wrote the Catching Fire big-screen adaptation, from Suzanne Collins' book. The next two episodes in the four-film The Hunger Games movie trilogy, both directed by Francis Lawrence, are The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2.
Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair Catching Fire photo: Lionsgate Pictures.