It’s official: Katniss just kicked Guardians Of The Galaxy‘s butt. Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 hit $333.18M yesterday, seizing the title of highest-grossing film of 2014 away from the Marvel/Disney comic book film which has amassed $333.17M at the domestic box office. Further bolstering Mockingjay‘s title is that its bread wasn’t propped up by 3D or IMAX ticket pricing, the latter of which was the case with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ($424.7M). (However, sources say that Mockingjay – Part 1 did play about 350 non-IMAX-brand large-format venues where it grossed $10M).
This is all deja vu. In January 2014, Katniss overtook another Marvel superhero title, Iron Man 3, as 2013’s highest-grossing film. In its seventh week, Hunger Games: Catching Fire clicked past Iron Man 3‘s $409M before finaling its cume at $424.7M. But the records don’t stop there: This is the first time in box office history two films in a franchise ranked as the No. 1 titles at the domestic box office for two years in a row — no other Harry Potter, Twilight or Lord Of The Rings has ever done so. Not to mention, it’s the first time a studio has had back-to-back annual No. 1 titles in decades (since box office charts began publishing in 1982, there haven’t been any studios logging back-to-back annual No. 1 hits). Also, it’s an anomaly that the No. 1-grossing film two years in a row features a female lead.
Some film critics griped that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 with its anti-climactic, proletariat 1984-ish war-planning bunker scenes was a cash grab. They didn’t believe Suzanne Collins’ 400-page Mockingjay novel deserved to be divided into two films such as Twilight: Breaking Dawn and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows which were adapted from near-800-page books. It’s shortsighted to label Mockingjay as a cash grab, especially when studios today take such great care to adapt novels to film, particularly YA ones. Studios have learned, in the Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings era, that if they take care in adapting the particulars of a beloved novel, it pays off at the B.O. with the book’s fans: They’re the ones who’ll line up first, and if they love it, they’re the ones who return. Splitting up novels, not only appeals to fans, but it’s reasonable, big business.
Throughout last year, Lionsgate drummed up a calculated marketing campaign for Mockingjay – Part 1 hitting key events such as the Cannes Film Festival and ComicCon. Any doubt whether Hunger Games fans or moviegoers felt duped by Mockingjay being split up into two is only vindicated by the film’s A- CinemaScore. As one regional booker observes, “fans kept coming back. Despite the film’s softer opener versus Catching Fire, it played strong against type and held well throughout the holidays.”
The anticipation is that next November’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 will post a bigger opening as well as a final cume than Part 1. A B.O. trend with these splintered feature lit-adaptation finales is that the first part typically logs a lower cume than the second. Said one distribution insider on why Part 1s are low, “Fans can walk away from the theater with a penultimate feeling.” Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows –Part 1 posted a three-day opening of $125M and a final cume of $296M, while Deathly Hallows Part 2 took in $169.2M opening and finaled at $381M. Same scenario for Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn; part one was lower than part two. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 opened to $138.1M and ended at $281.3M while Breaking Dawn 2 posted an opening FSS of $141.1M and a final domestic B.O. of $292.3M.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 will be released on digital HD on February 17, and on Blu-Ray/DVD/VOD on March 6.