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CATCHING FIRE Weekend Box Office: To Surpass NEW MOON, THE HUNGER GAMES? (With Caveats)

Catching Fire Jennifer Lawrence Sam Claflin'Catching Fire' weekend box office: 'The Hunger Games' sequel poised for biggest domestic November debut ever? (image: Jennifer Lawrence and Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire')

On Friday, November 22, 2013, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (slightly) surpassed the higher end of early North American box office predictions, pulling in an estimated $70.5 million (including $25.25 million from Thursday evening shows) from 4,163 sites as per Box Office Mojo. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson, the Francis Lawrence-directed The Hunger Games sequel seems poised to shatter the current November opening-weekend record held by The Twilight Saga: New Moon. But then again, comparisons between the two movies may not be exactly fair; more on that below.

Last week, some box office pundits (and, reportedly, Lionsgate Pictures as well) were expecting Catching Fire to open somewhere near Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man 3's $174.14 million (which had the advantage of 3D surcharges). At Box Office Mojo, Ray Subers predicted an opening around $167 million. In all likelihood, Catching Fire won't get too close to these figures; on the positive side, it'll certainly surpass unofficial weekend estimates released on Friday, which had the Hunger Games sequel collecting $140-$150 million in the U.S. and Canada. Now, the $150 million mark seems all but guaranteed; in fact, there's a not inconsiderable chance that Catching Fire may open north of $160 million. (Sunday update: According to studio estimates, Catching Fire opened with $161.12 million in North America. Monday update: Lionsgate overestimated Catching Fire's Sunday box office take. Check out this article about 'Catching Fire' 2D weekend box office record.)

North American box office: 'Catching Fire' vs. 'New Moon,' 'The Hunger Games'

Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon brought in $142.83 million (including Thursday midnight only screenings) at 4,024 venues in late November 2009. Needless to say, Catching Fire will surpass that figure. Now, before you buy into the usual "record-breaking box office" hype take the following into account: a) adjusted for inflation, New Moon, the second installment in the Twilight franchise, scored approximately $151 million b) even if Catching Fire surpasses that figure, which is certainly a (strong) possibility, bear in mind that the Lionsgate release had the sizable advantage of Thursday evening shows.

You know, if studios want to keep bragging about record-shattering opening-weekend box office figures, one thing they could do is to keep making the (official) weekend longer. Don't be too surprised if in the not-too-distant future we start seeing movie-debut weekends that begin on Monday evening.

As for the Gary Ross-directed The Hunger Games, the first movie based on Suzanne Collins' literary trilogy scored $152.53 million (including midnight only shows) at 4,137 theaters in mid-March 2012. Unless Catching Fire's early Saturday box office estimates are off target (Nikki Finke has the film's take pegged at $50 million), the sequel will officially boast a bigger debut than its predecessor in North America. But again, we're comparing apples and potatoes here: remember Catching Fire's Thursday night screenings. (True, The Hunger Games was released during spring break, when lots of American students were free to attend early Friday shows. However, it seems that those unable to go to matinees yesterday went to evening shows instead.)

Another Saturday update: If Lionsgate's estimates are on target, Catching Fire had the biggest November opening ever, even taking inflation into account while disregarding Thursday evening ticket sales (which wouldn't amount to more than $9 million). We'll be posting a fully revised Catching Fire box office article on Monday, once Lionsgate releases official weekend box office actuals.

The Hunger Games cost a reported $78 million (plus $43 million in marketing and distribution costs); Catching Fire's production budget alone was a reported $130 million. In other words, if that figure is right, once we add prints and advertising expenses Catching Fire likely cost around $200 million. (See also: "'Catching Fire' Box Office: 1 Million Tickets Sold But 'Breaking Dawn Part 2' Record Safe in Brazil.")

Weekend box office estimates come out on Sunday. Weekend box office actuals will be made available on Monday.

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth topline 'Catching Fire' movie cast

As mentioned above, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire stars the following:

Additionally, Catching Fire features Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), Best Actor Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and Oscar nominees Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Messenger) and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones).

Plus: Jena Malone (Sucker Punch), Willow Shields (A Fall from Grace, in pre-production), Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge), Lynn Cohen (Munich), Alan Ritchson, Amanda Plummer, Toby Jones, 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 movie adaptation. The next two episodes in the four-film The Hunger Games movie trilogy are The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2.

Sam Claflin and Jennifer Lawrence Catching Fire photo: Lionsgate Pictures.

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