8:50AM: The domestic opening day estimate for Mockingjay  – Part 1 looks to be $55M, the highest opening day of 2014 and the sixth highest single day bow in November. 2009’s Twilight Saga: New Moon owns the month’s record at $72.7M. Again, that’s a healthy number.  Exhibs should be happy, seeing spillover into concession sales.

2:49AM: Late night industry domestic B.O. estimates for Friday show Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 with $55.5M from 4,151 screens including Thursday previews of $17M. While that number ranks third behind Catching Fire‘s first day from a year ago of $70.95M (-22%) and The Hunger Games’ March 23, 2012 opening day of $67.26M (-17%), Mockingjay is rocketing toward the sky overseas where it’s collected $33M in its first two days, pacing 5-10% ahead of Catching Fire’s first two days; an international weekend that hit $146M (more details on foreign toward the end).  Lionsgate will report its Friday estimate in a few hours.

Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1With the current FSS opening domestic projection for Mockingjay being in the $120M range — an anticipated record for 2014 to date, but a low for the bigscreen franchise; there’s no reason for anyone to cry. The Hunger Games franchise isn’t broken. Everybody, calm down: Mockingjay grabbed an A- Cinemascore, giving the film extra feathers to fly heading into the Thanksgiving frame (the first two films earned As). All of the boxes were checked heading into this weekend: Lionsgate did a sublime job marketing the film as we detailed in the Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1Wednesday preview. The pic stars some of our favorite people, i.e. Jennifer Lawrence, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and even Game of Thrones fave Natalie Dormer, who shaved the side of her head for some HG action. Not to mention, Mockingjay is bowing during the pre-Thanksgiving hotbed frame, a time when moviegoers are expecting a big, loud hit.  At 68% fresh on the Tomatometer, Mockingjay didn’t totally rub critics the wrong way, however, there are grumpy guys like The Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr calling the threequel a “cash grab” which has tainted the film’s critics score from the previous two installments (HG‘s 84% and CF‘s 89%).

So, why the lower gross?

Yes, Mockingjay doesn’t have the IMAX uptick like CF did a year ago. Paramount needed those hubs to show off the jawdropping space and tidal wave scenes in Interstellar.  Back out the $12.2M IMAX bow from CF‘s opening weekend of $158.07M and you’re left with largely a 2D take of $145.87M.  Bad weather? Nah, Buffalo, NY was never a B.O. fountainhead. The soft domestic box office is a factor: Mockingjay and Transformers 4 are the only films to open past $98M this year; while 2013 boasted three $10oM-plus openers and 2012 had four.

Mockingjay’s lower than franchise-record opening simply boils down to threequel-itis, a common, cyclical trend that effects a franchise’s third installments at the domestic B.O. without any major reason other than that they’re the third chapter.  When Threequelitis strikes, as in the supposed case of Mockingjay, does it mean the franchise is broken? No. Does it mean that fans are put off? Hell, no. Hunger Games fans have all the time between now and Dec. 12 when the next tentpole arrives, Fox’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.

eclipseThere was even a bit of threequel-itis going on with Summit’s YA title The Twilight Saga:Eclipse following the second film Twilight Saga: New Moon.  Eclipse‘s $68.5M first day was down 6% versus New Moon‘s first day (granted, it was a Wednesday opener to New Moon‘s Friday). Eclipse was also down next to New Moon in its  first 3 days with $121M (-15%) and its first 5 days with $157.6M (-4%).  Eclipse grossed more in the end stateside than New Moon, $300.5M to $296.6M, and perhaps Mockingjay will emulate a similar B.O. trajectory over CF due to ThanksgivingQuite often with sequels, particularly those that broke a three-day record, distribs will often bow their subsequent chapters on a Wednesday or midweek in effort to vie for a fresh record.

Lately, franchise chapter 3s at the B.O. have outstripped the chapter 2s in their bows, i.e. Iron Man 3 vs. Iron Man 2 ($174.1M vs. $128.1M), The Dark Knight Rises vs. The Dark Knight ($160.9M bow vs. $158.4M) and Harry Potter3 vs. 2 ($93.7M vs. $88.4M). However, some of the greatest film properties have been stricken with threequel-itis, Jurassic Park 3 vs. Jurassic Park: Lost World (5-day $81.4M vs.$92.7M), The Matrix Revolutions vs. Matrix Reloaded ($83.79M five day vs. $134.3M), Pirates of the Caribbean 3 vs. 2 (first four days respectively on each film was $127.97M vs. $153.77M).

Below are the late Friday figures averaged from studio estimates courtesy of Amanda Nduka:

1). The Hunger Games (LGF), 4,151 theaters  / $55.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $128M/ Wk 1

2). Big Hero 6 (DIS), 3,650 theaters (-123) / $4.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $20.5M (-41%)/ Total Cume: $136.1M /Wk 3

3). Interstellar (PAR), 3,415 theaters (-146) / $4.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $14.7M (-48%) / Total cume: $120.4M / Wk 3

4). Dumb and Dumber To (UNI), 3,188 theaters (+34) / $4.1M Fri./3-day cume: $13.8M (-62%)/ Total Cume: $57.1M /Wk 2

That B- Cinemascore is a bad grade for these loveable dummies.  Their second Friday is down 71% and they’re on a course of a bigger than average drop this weekend.

5). Gone Girl (FOX), 1,609 theaters (-350) / $803K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.7M (-41%)/ Total cume: $157M / Wk 8

6). Beyond the Lights (REL), 1766 theaters (-23)/ $803K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.5M  (-60%) / Total Cume: $10M /Wk 2

7). St. Vincent (TWC), 1,707 theaters (-625) / $672K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.25M (-40%)/ Total cume: $36.7M / Wk 7

8). Fury (SONY), 1,720 theaters (-662) / $550K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.8M (-52%) / Total cume: $79.1M / Wk 6

Micheal Keaton in Birdman9). Birdman (FSL), 862 theaters (+5) / 502K Fri. /3-day cume: $1.7M (-31%) / Total cume: $14.3M /Wk 6
When the kudo recognition starts rolling in, the mind wonders how high this guy can fly. With just five additional theaters, the Fox Searchlight Michael Keaton comeback stays alive in the top 10.

10). The Theory Of Everything (FOC), 140 theaters (+99) / $402K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.4M (+90%)/ Total cume: $2.7M / Wk 3
The Stephen Hawking film surged a cosmic 91% in its third Friday thanks to a near 100-venue expansion.  If that three-day holds, The Theory will think up a solid screen average of $10,000.

Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas (SGF), 410 theaters (0)/$194K Friday/3-day $670K (-32%)/Total Cume: $1.9M/Wk 2
Rosewater (OPRD), 371 theaters (0)/ $148K Fri. / 3-day cume: $501K (-57%)/ Total Cume: $2M / Wk 2
Foxcatcher (SPC), 24 theaters (+18) / $123K Fri. / 3-day cume: $447K (+65) /$18K per screen avg./ Total Cume: $800K/ Wk 2
International Highlights for Mockingjay:

–          Mockingjay unspooled in nine markets Wednesday, including France, Scandinavia & Brazil; opened in 59 markets Thursday (total of 68), including the UK, Germany, Australia, Italy, Mexico and Korea.

–          17 more markets bowed Friday, including Spain.  Total launch heading into the weekend is 85 markets, the biggest day-and-date release of the year and Lionsgate’s widest release ever.

–          No. 1 openings in virtually every market.

–          UK posts strong bow with $3.6M including previews, up 12% from Catching Fire.  UK was the top market for Catching Fire.

–         Germany posted US $2.9M, up 11% from CF‘s first day.  Best opening of 2014.

–          France after 2 days is at $3M, up more than 10% compared to CF overall.  Mockingjay also had the #1 opening of the year in Belgium, up 5% from CF.

–          LatAm is posting strong early results, varying from 40% to 55% up across the board in early estimates.

–          Russia posted a record for the biggest 2D opening day 2014 with $2.7M (+28% compared to CF).  Russia had over 40% market share on opening day.

–          Australia had a huge opening day grossing US $2.4M, another territory in which it achieved the #1 opening of the year to date.

–          Italy has the best opening Thursday for 2014 with $877K, up 8% over CF’s opening.

–          Korea was also up 41% from CF on its opening day.