Weekend Box Office (March 23 - 25, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers poured into North American multiplexes for the hotly anticipated futuristic saga The Hunger Games which obliterated the competition with a jaw-dropping $152.5M opening weekend, according to final studio figures, shattering records in the process. The PG-13 pic based on the wildly popular young adult novel about a future where teenagers are forced by a totalitarian government to compete in a fight to the death generated the third biggest opening weekend of all-time and the best ever for both a non-sequel and for a non-summer release. The only two bigger debuts were last summer's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 with $169.2M including 3D surcharges and 2008's The Dark Knight with $158.4M. Both of those were released by Warner Bros. on the same mid-July weekend when all students were out of school. Landing in 4,137 theaters, Games averaged a scorching $36,871 per theater and was helped by 268 higher-priced IMAX venues which offered a one-week-only run.

The previous record-holder for best non-summer opening was The Twilight Saga: New Moon with $142.8M in November 2009. Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland, a 3D pic, held both records for top March and non-sequel debuts with $116.1M two years ago. Hunger Games easily smashed that mark. And in just two days, the Katniss pic nearly matched the top-grossing film in Lionsgate history which was 2004's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 with $119.2M. The Michael Moore film wasn't even originally slated for release by the company as it was with Miramax and Disney which the Weinstein brothers then had to bring over to Lionsgate and IFC Films for the release.

Delivering this much business in the spring is nothing short of amazing. The Hunger Games movie followed more than a year of build up with fans getting hyped up for the movie event of the year thanks to all types of carefully scheduled marketing. Lionsgate involved fans all along the way and this weekend was the payoff. And it will be a lucrative film as the production budget was only about $75M while the total domestic marketing tab was roughly $45M which is low for a tentpole by big studio standards, but high for Lionsgate which usually involves itself with moderately-budgeted films. Although it is too early to really tell, the odds of cracking the $300M domestic mark are certainly in its favor.

Critics and audiences both gave great marks to Hunger. Reviews were mostly positive and the CinemaScore grade was a solid A. Even though films based on popular book franchises like this tend to drop heavy, this one may hold up well for a gargantuan of its kind. Part of the reason Hunger was able to open better than every Twilight film was that it had more male appeal. Studio research showed that 61% of the crowd was female as opposed to the 80% seen by the Bella Swan chapters. The male share was twice as big. Those over 25 made up 56% of the audience so a broad age range was reached. A red hot 2012 box office also contributed as people were seeing trailers, posters and standees in theaters over the past couple of months boosting awareness and excitement and the momentum certainly helped this weekend surge with all audience segments.

The historic debut started off with $67.3M on Friday including $19.7M from Thursday's post-midnight shows. That was the fifth best opening day and seventh highest midnights ever with only Harry Potter and Twilight sequels ranking higher. Obsessed book fans have intense demand to see film adaptations upfront and at the earliest possible show but often also see them again before the weekend is over. Saturday fell by 25% to $50.4M while Sunday dropped by 31% to $34.9M.

Being a global phenomenon, The Hunger Games also saw impressive results overseas this weekend although the figures were not as eye-popping as they were in the U.S. The overseas launch in 67 markets delivered an estimated $59.3M for a worldwide opening weekend of $212M. Leading the way was Australia with $9.7M, the United Kingdom with $7.5M, and Russia with $6.5M.

The next film in the franchise, Catching Fire, will reunite the cast and director Gary Ross and is currently slated for release on November 22 of next year in a slot that worked wonders for many of the Twilight and Potter films being a week before the busy Thanksgiving holiday.

For daily Hunger Games box office updates, be sure to check BoxOfficeGuru.com and follow on Twitter.

Despite the arrival of the new juggernaut, last week's top film 21 Jump Street held up remarkably well dipping only 44% to $21.3M even though much of its young adult audience overlaps with Hunger Games. There were no other major comedies in the marketplace and strong word-of-mouth had been spreading all week. The Sony remake has taken in a terrific $70.2M in just ten days and could be headed for $120-130M which would be rock solid for a film that cost $42M to produce. Street has collected $16M from 14 international territories with Australia and the U.K. accounting for most of the total thanks to strong legs in each market.

Universal's popular Dr. Seuss toon The Lorax fared well by playing to kids too young for a fight-to-the-death flick. The 3D pic collected $13.2M in its fourth frame, off just 42%, boosting the 24-day cume to a robust $177.4M. Lorax still stands as 2012's top-grossing domestic movie but will be shoved aside within days by Hunger Games. International markets have contributed $21.3M early in the overseas run for a worldwide take of $198.7M so far. Most major countries will open the film right before Easter school holidays.

Continuing its financial collapse, the sci-fi epic John Carter tumbled 63% in its third outing to $5.1M suffering the worst drop for any film in the top ten. Disney has grossed just $62.4M in 17 days domestically with the Mars flick and should end with only $70M or so. Grosses are higher overseas, but still not good enough to justify its enormous production cost of more than $250M. The overseas take this weekend fell 46% to $22.2M boosting the international total to $172.1M, or 73% of the $234.5M worldwide tally. Although Japan's debut is still ahead, the final global gross does not seem likely to go too much higher than $300M with Disney only getting a part of that amount back into its hands - not nearly enough to cover production and marketing costs.

The rest of the films in the top ten carved out very slim slices of the box office pie. The military actioner Act of Valor dropped 45% to $2M for a $65.9M cume for Relativity. The Eddie Murphy flop A Thousand Words laughed up $2M after declining by 46%. Paramount's modest collection stands at just $15M. The low-budget Warner Bros. hit Project X followed with $1.9M, off 52%, and a $51.7M total.

The new faith-based drama October Baby landed in the top ten thanks in part to competing films generating such low grosses this weekend. The PG-13 tale of a young woman trying to find the birth mother who almost aborted her bowed to $1.7M from 390 theaters for a lackluster $4,352 average. On any other weekend this year, the gross would not have been enough to crack the top ten.

A pair of big grossers from February rounded out the top ten. The Denzel Washington hit Safe House fell 48% to $1.4M while the Warner Bros. adventure sequel Journey 2: The Mysterious Island featuring Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson took in the same amount after dropping 43%. Cumes are $122.6M and $97.1M, respectively.

The critically acclaimed Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption locked up a strong debut in limited release with $213,785 from only 14 theaters for a $15,270 average. Sony Classics will expand the brutally violent cop film each Friday over the next three weeks which will take it into nationwide play by mid-April. The aggressive release should help build a new movie brand as Sony corporate cousin Screen Gems will be producing the American remake.

The top ten films grossed $201.6M which was up a whopping 93% from last year when Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules opened in the top spot with $23.8M; and up a staggering 78% from 2010 when How To Train Your Dragon debuted at number one with $43.7M.

Compared to projections, The Hunger Games soared above my $125M forecast.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Be sure to check the UPDATED all-time box office charts for Top Opening Days and Top Opening Weekends.

Watch the trailer for Prometheus. For a NEW review of The Hunger Games visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Wrath of the Titans and Mirror Mirror both open.

# Title Mar 23 - 25 Mar 16 - 18 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Hunger Games $ 152,535,747 4,137 1 $ 36,871 $ 152,535,747 Lionsgate
2 21 Jump Street 20,471,187 36,302,612 -43.6 3,121 2 6,559 70,222,515 Sony
3 The Lorax 13,182,045 22,764,760 -42.1 3,677 4 3,585 177,412,055 Universal
4 John Carter 5,073,832 13,569,795 -62.6 3,212 3 1,580 62,407,212 Disney
5 Act of Valor 2,041,362 3,733,697 -45.3 2,219 5 920 65,921,086 Relativity
6 A Thousand Words 1,950,154 3,632,932 -46.3 1,787 3 1,091 14,950,322 Paramount
7 Project X 1,931,336 4,044,159 -52.2 2,065 4 935 51,733,484 Warner Bros.
8 October Baby 1,697,130 390 1 4,352 1,896,572 Samuel Goldwyn
9 Safe House 1,403,035 2,716,795 -48.4 1,330 7 1,055 122,582,350 Universal
10 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 1,357,412 2,388,320 -43.2 1,340 7 1,013 97,139,501 Warner Bros.
11 Casa De Mi Padre 1,181,943 2,287,239 -48.3 475 2 2,488 4,030,195 Lionsgate
12 This Means War 985,981 2,141,760 -54.0 1,188 6 830 52,270,718 Fox
13 Good Deeds 853,046 1,374,996 -38.0 621 5 1,374 33,952,589 Lionsgate
14 The Vow 841,576 2,094,103 -59.8 1,258 7 669 122,776,350 Sony
15 Friends With Kids 822,328 1,454,753 -43.5 555 3 1,482 5,519,009 Roadside Attr.
16 Salmon Fishing in the Yemen 702,602 460,536 52.6 124 3 5,666 1,628,802 CBS
17 Silent House 639,958 2,113,800 -69.7 1,202 3 532 11,962,731 Open Road
18 Jeff Who Lives at Home 586,909 855,709 -31.4 254 2 2,311 1,774,267 Paramount
19 The Artist 474,532 1,042,955 -54.5 576 18 824 43,037,870 Weinstein Co.
20 A Separation 331,715 470,880 -29.6 261 13 1,271 6,078,039 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 193,304,173 $ 80,415,023 140.4
Top 10 201,643,240 93,582,069 115.5
Top 20 209,063,830 104,874,457 99.3
Top 20 vs. 2011 209,063,830 116,268,794 79.8

Last Updated: March 26, 2012 at 4:30PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.