Neither rain nor snow nor sleet will keep fans from braiding their hair, donning archer unitards and lining up for Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. After a languid box office year that has dogged 2013 by 3.6% through this past Sunday, exhibs and even competitive distribs are looking to Katniss as their B.O. savior.
In early tracking, which becomes more accurate as we progress toward opening day Thursday, Mockingjay is expected to draw $130M–$150 million, essentially a figure on the high end that’s on par to the three-day of the first The Hunger Games ($152.5M), which posted a monthly all-time record in March 2012, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ($158.07M), which opened during the same pre-Thanksgiving frame a year ago today — also posting an all-time record for the month.
Whether the nation’s arctic-deep freeze and Great Lakes and New York state snow storms would set a trap for Katniss, one distrib exec exclaimed: “Are you kidding? Hard-core fans will run out for this film in the middle of a snow storm.” For the most part, distribs aren’t fazed by the snowy weekend; only if it impacts public transportation in major cities does it becomes a concern. Essentially, bad weather isn’t a reality until you see it in the grosses. Still, the reason for the lowball projection stems from the general ennui in the year’s moviegoing. Mockingjay will unspool in 4,151 engagements on Friday, kickstarting with Thursday night previews starting at 8 PM in 3,200 theaters. The Thursday night preview figures for Catching Fire were a solid $25.3M, 28% ahead of those for Hunger Games. Abroad, Mockingjay is going day-and-date in 85 markets, excluding China, Japan and India — the widest foreign day-and-date bow of the year.
There are lower projections out there for Mockingjay this weekend — as low as $130M — as well as wildly higher ones including $170M. One factor Mockingjay doesn’t have this time around is the boost from Imax, which is committed to Interstellar this season and generating 30% of that film’s total box office, which should pass $100M stateside today (Catching Fire generated $12.6M from 347 IMAX hubs, while other large-format screens like Cinemark’s XD brand chalked up $9.6 million on 314 runs). Even if Mockingjay comes in on the low end of expectations, it will still be the highest opening of the year, outstripping Transformers: Age Of Extinction’s $100M reported by Rentrak (Deadline reported a lower opening) and Disney/Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95M three-day bow).
When numbers are this high in tracking, it’s a challenge to pin down exactly how high a film will go. A full 52% of young females have expressed that Mockingjay is their first choice, “a figure that’s on an Avengers level.” says one distrib, while first choice for all crowds is 38%. As for unaided awareness — the slot most distribs eye when making projections (a tracking category that polls people, unfazed by studio promotions, on the street with the question “Name a movie, any movie, you might go see this weekend”) — that figure is 24%, a high number most distrib execs would kill for.
In regards to demos on the first two films, Hunger Games drew 61% females, segueing to more guys on Catching Fire with 51%. In regards to age, the first film drew 49% under 25, while Catching Fire pulled in slightly more young’uns with 54% under 25.
In July 2012, Lionsgate said it would split the last novel in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, into two films in an effort to maximize its buck, while giving fans an epic fill — its cue taken from Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows and Twilight: Breaking Dawn. After director Gary Ross hit a career box office high on the first Hunger Games (global B.O. $691.2M), Francis Lawrence took over the helm on Catching Fire (global B.O. $864.6 million) and the two Mockingjay pics. The production price tag for Mockingjay is $140M, slightly higher than Catching Fire‘s $130M and Hunger Games’ $78M.
Currently, the entire Hunger Games franchise, between two films, has grossed $1.56 billion.
The lead-up to this weekend has been a slow, smartly calculated drum roll by Lionsgate. The core theme throughout the marketing campaign has been revolution, particularly that against totalitarian power. In June, the studios dropped a gorgeous series of proletariat one-sheets entitled “Panem propangada posters” (which looked to take their cues from Soviet one-sheets). In July, Lionsgate dropped a teaser trailer of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) soapboxing to Panem citizens before his message is interrupted by the revolutionaries.
Back in May at the Cannes Film Festival, Lionsgate threw a huge party at a nearby country mansion with the stars in attendance — essentially a TKU for their foreign distributors on the film. The mansion was decked out with the Mockingjay symbol and party extras walked around dressed eclectically as the futuristic characters. At July’s Comic-Con, Lionsgate teamed with Samsung to launch an all-fan sneak peek of the first official trailer on the Galaxy S Tab. Last month, Lionsgate and Google rolled out original videos from five YouTube teams set in the film’s fictitious Panem setting.
Beefing up its soundtrack, Grammy-winning Lorde dropped the sublime, bluesy single “Yellow Flicker Beat” which syncs so well to Mockinjay. And, of course, Mockingjay stars Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson joined their Hunger Games bud Woody Harrelson during his SNL guest-hosting gig on Saturday. In total, the cast spread itself across 35 U.S. talk show appearances.
Social media has been king in the tubthump of Mockingjay, with Lionsgate upticking the franchise’s presence by 80% with 30M Twitter mentions and 125M views on YouTube. Digital media buys were comprised of road blocks targeting mass viewers on ESPN, YouTube, and Pandora as well as targeted strategic buys across Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 is dedicated to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman who returns as Plutarch.
Elsewhere this weekend, Universal’s Dumb And Dumber To is entering its second frame. Rival distribs are rather pointed about the dummies’ hold, citing drops of 55%-60%. However, the studio’s Ouija bested the typical sophomore-frame blues for a horror film, typically 60%, with a solid 46% decline in its second weekend.
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