For the weekend of November 22-24, 2013, Lionsgate overestimated the domestic box office take of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by nearly 2 percent. Doesn't sound like much? What about $3 million? That figure can make a hell of a difference when we're talking box office records. In fact, it can be the difference between a movie breaking and not breaking a box office record.
All day Sunday heralded as the biggest 2D opening ever in the United States and Canada, the Francis Lawrence-directed Catching Fire actually opened below two movies: Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and The Dark Knight (2008). And when inflation is taken into account, as it always should, the The Hunger Games sequel falls behind a couple of other titles as well. Admittedly, Catching Fire still holds the record for the biggest domestic November opening ever, having surpassed Chris Weitz's 2009 fantasy The Twilight Saga: New Moon even adjusted for inflation. But there's a caveat. More on that below.
'Catching Fire' vs. Batman movies
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth, Catching Fire opened with $158.07 million (instead of $161.1 million, as per Sunday estimates) from 4,163 sites according to weekend box office actuals found at Box Office Mojo. Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, and Marion Cotillard, The Dark Knight Rises opened with $160.88 million, while The Dark Knight, featuring Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Aaron Eckhart, took in $158.41 million on its first weekend out. Note: Unlike Catching Fire, neither of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies had the advantage of Thursday evening screenings.
Once inflation is factored in, Catching Fire also trails Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 (2007), starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco, and Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), starring Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, and Orlando Bloom. In 2013 dollars, the third Spider-Man movie collected approximately $177 million, while the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie earned approximately $167 million. And let's not forget that neither of these movies (or The Dark Knight) had the advantage of extensive IMAX screenings, which, via ticket surcharges, boost box office revenues (despite selling fewer tickets). Or of Thursday evening shows.
If 3D movies are added to the mix, the top weekend at the North American box office belongs to Joss Whedon's The Avengers. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, and Robert Downey Jr., The Avengers earned $207.43 million on its first weekend out in May 2012.
'Catching Fire' vs. 'New Moon,' 'The Hunger Games'
Toplining Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, New Moon scored $142.83 million at 4,024 venues in late November 2009. Needless to say, Catching Fire far surpassed that figure. Now, adjusted for inflation the second installment in the Twilight franchise raked in approximately $151 million. Chances are that Catching Fire did sell more tickets than New Moon, though the current wider availability of IMAX shows and Catching Fire's Thursday night screenings make comparisons more than a bit iffy.
Also worth noting is that Catching Fire outgrossed two other Twilight movies opening in November: Bill Condon's The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012). The former took in $138.12 million ($142 million in 2013 dollars), the latter $141.06 million (including Thursday night shows; about the same amount in 2013 dollars). (See also: "'Catching Fire' Box Office: 1 Million Tickets Sold But 'Breaking Dawn Part 2' Record Safe in Brazil.")
Catching Fire's Thursday night shows also make comparisons to the Gary Ross-directed The Hunger Games a bit iffy. The first movie based on Suzanne Collins' literary trilogy took in $152.53 million at 4,137 theaters in mid-March 2012. The sequel grossed an extra $5.54 million. Could Thursday shows be responsible for that difference? In all likelihood, if we ignore these Thursday screenings, Catching Fire opened only very, very slightly ahead of its predecessor.
Considering that it's a much better received movie and that it has a much broader fan base, Catching Fire will surely end up way ahead of fellow November opener New Moon. But will it surpass The Hunger Games' $408.01 million? Though not impossible, that seems less likely. After all, sequels tend to be much more frontloaded than "original" movies — e.g., Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight earned 36 percent of its total take on its first weekend vs. New Moon's 48 percent, Breaking Dawn Part 1's 49 percent, and Breaking Dawn Part 2's 48 percent.
'Catching Fire' vs. 'The Hunger Games' budget, international box office
Whereas The Hunger Games cost a reported $78 million (plus $43 million in marketing and distribution expenses), Catching Fire's production budget alone was reportedly $130 million. In other words, assuming that figure is accurate, once we add prints and advertising disbursements Catching Fire's final cost should total around $200 million.
At the international box office, the Hunger Games sequel surprisingly failed to surpass its domestic take — though it's unclear if China's weekend gross is included in the international total. For now, the score is an estimated $146.6 million internationally (including $8.2 million in Brazil last week) vs. the aforementioned $158.07 million in the U.S. and Canada.
Catching Fire's top international markets this weekend, when the film grossed $138.4, were the following: the U.K. and Ireland with $19.8 million, Germany with $12.8 million, Australia with $11.5 million, Russia with $10.8 million, Mexico with $10.7 million, and Spain with $5.6 million. Catching Fire has yet to open in France, Italy, and Japan.
'Catching Fire' movie cast
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire stars the following:
- Jennifer Lawrence — Best Actress Academy Award nominee for Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, Best Actress Academy Award winner for David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, and to be seen with Bradley Cooper in Susanne Bier's upcoming Serena;
- Josh Hutcherson — Annette Bening and Julianne Moore's difficult son and Mia Wasikowska's brother in Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, and one of the adventurers alongside Dwayne Johnson and Vanessa Hudgens in Brad Peyton's Journey 2: The Mysterious Island;
- Liam Hemsworth — the younger brother of Chris Hemsworth (Thor: The Dark World), Miley Cyrus' leading man in The Last Song, and Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger's young co-star in The Expendables 2.
The Catching Fire cast also features Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), Best Actor Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and Oscar nominees Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones) and Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Messenger).
More: Jena Malone (Sucker Punch), Willow Shields (A Fall from Grace, currently in pre-production), Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge), Lynn Cohen (Munich), Alan Ritchson (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction), Toby Jones (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Jack Quaid, Taylor St. Clair, Nelson Ascencio, Jeffrey Wright, and Lenny Kravitz.
Screenwriters Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Oblivion) and Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire) wrote the Catching Fire big-screen adaptation. The next two episodes in the four-film The Hunger Games movie trilogy, both with Francis Lawrence at the helm, are The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.
Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence Catching Fire photo: Lionsgate Pictures.