B: The Hunger Games’ opening weekend — may the odds be ever in its favor

This film is currently slicing and dicing the tomatoes, sitting at a certified-fresh 88% on the ever-popular review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

It has earned smashing reviews from two of the industry’s harshest critics: Richard Roeper called it “a smashing success,” and Roger Ebert, who has been none too kind to young adult novel adaptations, called it “effective entertainment.”

The novel that the film is based on has sold an astonishing 7.5 million copies since the first trailer for the film was released. Oh, yeah, that was back in November, by the way.

Add in the fact that the film has already made a killing, according to ticket-retailer Fandango, by selling more advance tickets than any other non-sequel ever, and you’ve got yourself a potentially box-office smashing film.

If you didn’t get the hint, we’re talking about The Hunger Games.

No doubt will this movie be big, but just how big? Well, as far as that question goes, no one really knows.

Here are the facts:

As far as predicting the potential haul that The Hunger Games could rake in over the weekend, it makes sense to look at some similar-genre films, such as franchises like Twilight and Harry Potter.

The first Twilight film earned $69,637,740 in its opening weekend; the first Harry Potter film, $90,294,621. So will The Hunger Games fit somewhere in there?

Not likely; the film has been tracking crazily, with public awareness of the film even higher than the most recent Twilight film, which opened to $138.1 million back in November.

So that brings us back to the question: how big will The Hunger Games’ opening weekend be? Time to do some math and extrapolate some (potentially huge and unreliable) numbers.

Let’s think about this for a moment: 2,500 midnight showings have already sold out, with some 7,500 other screenings partially sold and potentially selling out as midnight looms closer. Let’s assume that an average theater auditorium has something like 300 seats (random number I grabbed), and the average ticket price is $8.

  • (2,500 showings) x (300 seats) x ($8) = $6,000,000

So, there is already nearly $6 million in guaranteed money for The Hunger Games. Now, if you think that about half of the total midnight screenings will be sold out (which is a pretty conservative estimate), that means that there is an estimated $12,000,000 that the film would pull in just from those 5,000 showings. And if the rest of the showings are up to two-thirds full, The Hunger Games could be looking at close to $20 million, and potentially even more, from midnight showings alone.

And again, those numbers seem pretty conservative if you ask me. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 took in $30.3 million in its midnight showings, with Eclipse and New Moon nabbing $30.1 million and $26.3 million in their midnight showings, respectively. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw numbers closer to $25 million in midnight showings alone.

As I said, The Hunger Games is currently tracking much better than the most recent Twilight film, and it has an advantage on its side that Twilight can never claim: it has a male audience to play too as well. Where most of Twilight‘s audience is female, the audience for The Hunger Games is significantly more split, despite still skewing towards women (maybe that just means that men don’t read as much).

Back to box-office numbers though: if we look at this from a per-theater-average perspective, Twilight: New Moon and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 took in $35,497 and $34,012 per theater, respectively, during their opening weekends. And Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 took in $38,672 per theater during its massive $169.2 million opening weekend haul.

While The Hunger Games certainly match Harry Potter‘s numbers (if it did, it would have a $157.2 million opening weekend haul), it could definitely see Twilight-esque numbers, with a per-theater haul close to $35,000. But let’s be conservative, given that this is a franchise-opener and not a sequel.

Say The Hunger Games brings in $30,000 per theater; that’s the low-end of my prediction range. With a per-theater-average of $30,000, The Hunger Games would be looking at a $124.1 million opening weekend.

Now, if it hits the higher end of my prediction range, say $35,000 per theater, the film would be looking at a $144.8 million opening weekend.

So, in my prediction range, The Hunger Games looks primed to make somewhere between $124M to $145 M this weekend. Those are absurd numbers, especially for a March release; could it really happen?

In March 2010, Alice in Wonderland opened to $116.1 million, the largest March opening ever, but it had the help of inflated 3D ticket prices. Alice is a big name, to be sure, but the current popularity of The Hunger Games makes me think that a new March record is definitely within reach. In fact, I’m expecting it.

And on that note, I can’t help but think of the genius that Lionsgate employed when selecting the release date for The Hunger Games. With the vast slate of huge releases this summer, including the likes of The AvengersThe Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man, the film studio decided to bypass all that nonsense and set up for a late Spring 2012 release, during the quiet part of the year. That way, they could capitalize on not just their opening weekend, but essentially the entire upcoming month to let their potential box-office behemoth’s haul swell to the size of Panem.

But when looking at the numbers, something tells me that this weekend won’t be so quiet after all.

At the end of the day, it’s very difficult to put a true opening weekend prediction on The Hunger Games. It is tracking extremely well and has great reviews, but it’s the first film in the franchise. Can it really do the numbers that we would normally expect out of a sequel?

In short, yes. Lionsgate is smartly lowballing the film and predicting $95 million. Expert estimates have predicted anywhere from $100 million to $150 million, with conservative guesses falling in the $110-120 million range.

I’m going right smack in the middle of my earlier prediction numbers: $32,500 per theater, for a total weekend haul of $134.5 million. As far as midnight showings go, I’m going to say that we’ll see The Hunger Games pull in about $27 million from midnight showings.

Oh, and yes, I’m fully prepared for these numbers to be completely off. Like I said, The Hunger Games is an unpredictable beast. I wouldn’t be surprised if it outdoes Breaking Dawn Part 1‘s $138.1 million opening, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it grosses less than my prediction, either, maybe something closer to $110-125 million.

Expect my review of the movie to be up on our site sometime tomorrow morning, and added reports on the film’s midnight and weekend hauls throughout the next few days.

 

Are you going to see The Hunger Games this weekend? How well do you think it will do in terms of box-office? Feel free to leave us some feedback in the comments section below.

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