Weekend Box Office (November 21 - 23, 2014)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND To no surprise, the latest Katniss Everdeen flick The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 soared to the top of the box office scoring the best opening of the entire year and grossed an estimated $123M. But the Lionsgate film also generated the lowest opening weekend for the three-film series taking in 22% less than its predecessor Catching Fire's $158.1M from this very same weekend last year.

Mockingjay averaged a stellar $29,631 from 4,151 locations and easily outdistanced the $100M first weekend of June's Transformers: Age of Extinction which until now had been the best debut of 2014. That film had 3D and IMAX versions which helped boost the grosses while Mockingjay had neither. IMAX screens were locked up this week by Interstellar and not available to the Panem sequel despite the first two Hunger Games movies having that format. But Mockingjay did have other premium large format screens available for those fans wishing to pay more. A scorching $12.6M worth of opening weekend sales for Fire came from its IMAX screens. Most of that crowd of die-hard fans probably still came out for the new pic this weekend and instead saw the conventional version, or went to other PLF screens so most of that business should have been salvaged. The loss of IMAX this time around may have shaved off $2M or so from this weekend's figure.

The loss of the IMAX format does not explain the huge $35.1M drop in opening weekend sales from the last installment which launched in the same way at the same time. Reviews were a bit more harsh this time around. The content of the film featured less action, the visual style was replaced with a bland look because of the story, and there were no real Hunger Games involved. The book also had its share of detractors which may have led to less interest in the big-screen adaptation. Also many fans knew this was a clear attempt to charge twice to experience one book as a movie since Mockingjay Part 2 is on the calendar for this same weekend next year to close off the franchise. The Harry Potter and Twilight franchises did the same thing, although comparisons are difficult given the nature of their changes in summer and November release dates, as well as Wednesday and Friday launches.

Still, an opening weekend of this amount is sensational no matter what. It ranks as number 15 among all-time opening weekends and across the last year and a half, the two largest domestic debuts have both come from Hunger Games movies. Plus the production budget is roughly $125M with some costs shared across the two parts. So Mockingjay should no doubt be a profitable film as global box office has a shot at reaching $800M. However, the U.S. audience erosion should be concerning for both Lionsgate and the movie industry in general. This is the studio's top franchise and it will want missing fans to come back for sure for the final film in the series next year which will promise more action. And if the wildly popular Katniss sees this type of audience decline, then no Hollywood brand is safe from young adults choosing to go out to the movies less frequently.

Mockingjay kicked off the weekend with $55.2M on Friday which included $17M from Thursday night pre-shows starting at 8pm. Saturday fell 26% to $40.8M and Lionsgate has projected a 33% slide Sunday to $27.1M. The Saturday decline was virtually the same as those of its two predecessors so it played out in similar fashion even though threequels often erode quicker after the opening day rush is over. The Sunday estimate is mostly in line with the 35% drop that is usually seen for these types of tentpole sequels in mid-November. If Mockingjay follows the same path as Fire did last year, it would not be guaranteed to beat out Guardians of the Galaxy as 2014's highest grossing domestic blockbuster.

Fan fatigue can often explain why later installments in a film franchise open weaker. But it is actually very common for a third film in a franchise to open bigger than the first two films. Examples include Iron Man 3, The Dark Knight Rises, Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, X-Men: The Last Stand, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Bourne Ultimatum, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Batman Forever, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Fan excitement can keep crowds - and repeat business - going. The first Hunger had incredible legs while Fire played out moderately in successive weeks. Fan energy seems to have dimmed somewhat after the last movie and the studio will need to reignite the flame before November 20 next year when the second Mockingjay arrives.

As with so many of today's Hollywood franchises, Hunger Games is offsetting domestic erosion with growth from international markets. Mockingjay was red hot in its overseas debut pulling in a stunning $152M from 85 markets for an eye-popping global launch of $275M. Top international bows were $19.9M in the U.K., $13.7M in Germany, $12.1M from Mexico, $11.1M in Russia, $10.5M in France, and $10.1M from Australia. Lionsgate reported that most key markets saw Mockingjay opening better than Catching Fire by 4% to 19%. China and Japan open next year.

Disney stayed put in second place with its hit toon Big Hero 6 which grossed an estimated $20.1M in its third weekend, off a reasonable 42%. The robotics experts have collected an impressive $135.7M domestically and look headed for a finish of roughly $200M. Competition will arrive on Wednesday when the DreamWorks Animation spin-off flick Penguins of Madagascar opens for the long and lucrative Thanksgiving session. Overseas, Big Hero 6 has grossed $49.5M so far from limited play (about 40% from animation-loving Russia) for a global tally of $185.2M so far. Most major markets will open this winter.

Christopher Nolan's much-talked-about sci-fi epic Interstellar dropped a moderate 47% in its third round to an estimated $15.1M putting Paramount at $120.7M. With two more weeks without any new action films, the Matthew McConaughey film could make much more and end its North American run with roughly $160M. That would allow it to beat Neighbors to become the top-grossing film of 2014 not based on any pre-existing brand. With an incredible $70M from overseas markets this weekend, including an opening in Japan, Interstellar has boosted its offshore tally to $329M putting it at a towering $449.7M worldwide.

Last week's box office leader Dumb and Dumber To stumbled 62% in its second weekend to an estimated $13.8M putting the comedy sequel in fourth. Universal has banked $57.5M to date and should end with around $85M or so. That would still be good enough to make it Jim Carrey's top-grossing live-action movie since 2005's Fun With Dick and Jane which did $110.3M.

The next few films were fall holdovers collecting small scraps. Fox's hit film Gone Girl eased 38% to an estimated $2.8M giving the Ben Affleck thriller $156.8M to date. The leggy drama has spent a whopping eight weeks in the Top Five. Relativity's romance Beyond the Lights fell 58% in its sophomore frame to an estimated $2.6M for a $10.1M cume. Final may inch up to about $15M.

The indie comedy hit St. Vincent followed with an estimated $2.4M, off 38%, for a $36.6M sum for The Weinstein Co. Brad Pitt's Fury dropped 50% to an estimated $1.9M for Sony while Michael Keaton's Oscar contender Birdman slipped 25% to an estimated $1.9M as well for Fox Searchlight. Cumes are $79.2M and $14.4M, respectively.

Another awards player jumped into the national top ten. Focus expanded The Theory of Everything from 41 to 140 locations and grossed an estimated $1.5M for a solid $10,714 average, with a cume to date of $2.8M. Instead of positioning it as just another biopic about one famous man, this one has been pushed as the love story of Stephen and Jane Hawking and upscale women have been responding. On Wednesday, Theory will expand nationwide into over 700 locations for the long holiday frame.

The acclaimed drama Foxcatcher starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo remained strong in limited play with an estimated $474,000 from 24 sites for a sturdy $19,750 average. Sony Classics will expand out to about 70 runs over the turkey frame in hopes that buzz will keep exciting more people in more markets.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $185M which was down 14% from last year when The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opened at number one with $158.1M; and down 7% from 2012 when The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 stayed in the top spot with $43.6M after falling 69% in its second weekend.

Compared to projections, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 came in below my $140M forecast.

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Watch the trailer for Insurgent.

Be sure to check back on Monday for final figures and again on Wednesday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Penguins of Madagascar and Horrible Bosses 2 open for Thanksgiving.

# Title Nov 21 - 23 Nov 14 - 16 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 $ 121,897,634 4,151 1 $ 29,366 $ 121,897,634 Lionsgate
2 Big Hero 6 20,124,166 34,662,707 -41.9 3,650 3 5,513 135,746,235 Disney
3 Interstellar 15,341,167 28,307,626 -45.8 3,415 3 4,492 120,933,234 Paramount
4 Dumb and Dumber To 14,076,545 36,111,775 -61.0 3,188 2 4,415 57,729,445 Universal
5 Gone Girl 2,836,019 4,561,432 -37.8 1,609 8 1,763 156,844,231 Fox
6 Beyond the Lights 2,634,224 6,200,284 -57.5 1,766 2 1,492 10,128,001 Relativity
7 St. Vincent 2,249,311 3,768,670 -40.3 1,707 7 1,318 36,507,962 Weinstein Co.
8 Fury 1,942,949 3,761,558 -48.3 1,720 6 1,130 79,193,067 Sony
9 Birdman 1,853,664 2,471,471 -25.0 862 6 2,150 14,405,771 Fox Searchlight
10 The Theory of Everything 1,511,676 735,398 105.6 140 3 10,798 2,807,853 Focus
11 Nightcrawler 1,213,633 2,917,380 -58.4 1,102 4 1,101 27,175,216 Open Road
12 Ouija 979,005 2,965,585 -67.0 1,341 5 730 49,573,170 Universal
13 John Wick 876,324 2,224,552 -60.6 972 5 902 40,610,025 Lionsgate
14 Saving Christmas 651,276 992,087 -34.4 391 2 1,666 1,912,263 Goldwyn
15 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible... 612,169 1,614,223 -62.1 754 7 812 63,302,458 Disney
16 Rosewater 567,038 1,154,303 -50.9 371 2 1,528 2,065,933 Open Road
17 The Judge 551,293 1,053,266 -47.7 505 7 1,092 45,339,013 Warner Bros.
18 Whiplash 530,000 719,740 -26.4 331 7 1,601 3,227,000 Sony Classics
19 Guardians of the Galaxy 491,661 292,787 67.9 324 17 1,517 331,062,444 Disney
20 Foxcatcher 474,000 270,877 75.0 24 2 19,750 822,000 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 174,275,531 $ 109,843,824 58.7
Top 10 184,467,355 125,728,488 46.7
Top 20 191,413,754 136,511,522 40.2
Top 20 vs. 2013 191,413,754 223,443,472 -14.3

Last Updated: November 23, 2014 at 3:30PM ET

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