As my colleague David Lieberman pointed out this morning, Lionsgate brass crowed to Wall Street analysts about their high expectations for the four movies that will be made from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games novels. Wait a minute, four movies? Lionsgate toppers inadvertently dropped a bit of a bombshell, because everybody thought there would be three movies, one for each book in the series. Right now, the notion of making four movies isn’t set in stone, but apparently, Lionsgate has been carefully observing predecessors who squeezed an extra film out of a book franchise. Namely Warner Bros on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Summit on Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. Unlike those two examples, Lionsgate has covered itself by signing the cast to option deals that encompass all four films. By contrast, the Harry Potter kids made set-for-life fortunes when their contracts had to be changed to add another film, and so did the Twilight Saga stars. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars here in the monies paid to Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson and the other cast members. Lionsgate will likely have to sweeten the cast deals if the films hit as big as everybody expects them to, but the indie studio will have the leverage. As for how the trilogy will be turned into four films, it’ll go much the way that Harry Potter and Twilight Saga did. The first two books will be the first two films. The last book will be split in half. The final installment, Mockingjay, is logistically ambitious and can be scaled up comfortably to cover two films. I believe that Gary Ross and Collins have done rewrites and already figured out how to create a satisfying ending to the third film. A fourth film will give Lionsgate brass an extra year to puff out their chests before Wall Street analysts, but enough happens in that third book that there’s a good chance that fans of the Collins trilogy will also be pleased by an extra installment. Of course, the first one has to work, because Lionsgate has only committed to a single film so far and could stop at one if it’s a flop, as unlikely as that sounds. But if they get as far as that third book, expect Ross to shoot those last two films back to back, another effective way to keep costs down.