As the holiday season is in full swing, it hasn’t taken long for the studios to release their big guns and you can’t get much bigger than what has become one of the biggest franchises after just two movies. Of course, both those movies opened with over $150 million thanks to the dedicated fans of Suzanne Collins’ books, which should be all the clue you need to know that I’m talking about the third chapter of “The Hunger Games.”
Indeed, this weekend we get what is likely to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year as the first part of the finale The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Lionsgate) hits theaters. Once again directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), it reunites the cast of Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, bringing back popular favorites played by Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson (who just hosted “Saturday Night Live”), Donald Sutherland and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last performances. Joining them is Julianne Moore as President Coin, and the likes of Natalie Dormer from “Game of Thrones” and Mahershala Ali from “House of Cards.”
But let’s face it, the reason the mainly female (but a lot of male) fans of the book will go see the movie is for Jennifer Lawrence, who has become an even bigger star since the first The Hunger Games, which opened with $152.5 million on its way to $408 million domestic and $691 million worldwide. Since then, she has won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook (her second nomination) and was nominated a third time for David O. Russell’s next film American Hustle.
One thing that might hurt the movie is that it is the first half of the final chapter and it’s likely to be significantly slower than some might hope after the huge cliffhanger at the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (which you can read more about on the next page). That cliffhanger will do a lot to get the fans back into theaters to see the continuation of the story, but this one will also end with a cliffhanger and have less action, which surely will be disappointing for everyone who waited.
If we look at a couple of the previous franchises that had a two-part finale, we can see how the first part of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn opened softer on the same weekend in 2011 with $138 million (down nearly $5 million from the opening of The Twilight Saga: New Moon two years earlier) and ended up grossing $20 million less than the previous installment The Twilight Saga: Eclipse as well as less than all but the first movie. The second part of “Breaking Dawn” and the finale to the series did slightly more both opening and total domestic, as well as worldwide.
The “Harry Potter” franchise had a similar issue when J.K. Rowling’s final book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was split in half and while it opened in this same weekend in 2010 with $125 million, the highest opening for the franchise up until that point (with the caveat that the two previous movies opened in the summer on a Wednesday), it didn’t achieve the $300 million domestic gross of the previous movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The second and final chapter of the series opened in the summer of 2011 with $169 million (at the time, an opening weekend record) and grossed $381 million total, the highest individual gross for the entire series.
We can probably see a similar phenomenon with “Mockingjay” in that it will probably open just fine, in the same ballpark as the previous movie and maybe even a little higher, but it may fall short of its domestic gross since it’s not as exciting a movie as the previous one. Reviews will probably be fine—they’re currently at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes although it’s still early—but the film’s CinemaScore will probably be on the lower side and word-of-mouth might keep it from hitting $400 million like the previous two movies.
The new movie will open in well over 4,000 theaters although it won’t have the luxury of IMAX screenings and ticket prices since Christopher Nolan’s holding onto most of them for the next week. With the last two movies opening over $150 million, the previous one opening this same weekend last year, it’s probably safe to assume that the new movie will do the same. I think that it should have a great opening day of $75 million including Thursday night but will tail off over the weekend to end up around $160 million, making it the third-biggest opening domestically. The question is whether the film’s slow nature and not being a finished story will hurt it and keep it from reaching the $400 million of the previous two installments. I think it will be an issue and so it will probably end up closer to $350 to 360 million putting it up against Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy as the year’s highest-grossing film.
This weekend last year, the previous installment of the blockbuster franchise, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate), opened in 4,163 theaters including IMAX where it grossed $158 million over the three-day weekend after an opening day of $70.5 million. It averaged $37,971 per theater, which was the Top 5 averages for a wide release, and the movie would go on to gross $424.7 million to become the highest-grossing movie of the year domestically over Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 3 (which opened with $174.1 million). In probably one of the most ludicrous moves of the year, DreamWorks decided to release the Vince Vaughn dramedy Delivery Man against it, and as expected, it bombed with less than $8 million in over 3,000 theaters to take fourth place. The Top 10 grossed $215 million (with most of that coming from “Catching Fire”) and this weekend should top that with stronger returning movies adding to the box office for those who don’t care for “The Hunger Games.”
This Week’s Predictions:
We can give thanks (or not) for the third big box office face-off of the year as Thanksgiving sees the release of the comedy sequel Horrible Bosses 2 (New Line/WB), once again starring Jasons Bateman and Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, this one going up against DreamWorks Animation’s latest animated family comedy, The Penguins of Madagascar.
This Week’s Must Sees:
The Mule (XLRator Media)
Director: Hugo Weaving, Angus Sampson
Stars: Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Hugo Weaving, Ewen Leslie, Georgina Haig, Geoff Morrell, Noni Hazlehurst, John Noble
Of Note: One of the fun movies I saw at this year’s South by Southwest involves the true story of an Australian football player named Ray Jenkins (played by co-director and co-writer Sampson) who is coerced by his mate (played by co-writer Leigh Whannell) to smuggle drugs from Thailand back to Melbourne in the traditional way of drug smuggling by mules… up his ass. When Ray is stopped by customs, suspected of such activity, he refuses to give up the goods, so he’s put under the watchful eye of two agents (Hugo Weaving and Ewen Leslie) who try to force Ray to loose his bowels. (For fans of the Insidious movies, The Mule has the actors who play paranormal investigators, Specs and Tucker, in very different roles, although the premise alone promises a lot of disgusting sequences, not for the faint of stomach.)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Kino Lorber)
Writer/Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
Of Note: This acclaimed film from an Iranian filmmaker was all the rage at this year’s Sundance and other festivals, involving a ghost town called Bad City that’s terrorized by a lonesome vampire, who happens to be a young Muslim girl. (Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to see this at the time of this writing, so I’m recommending it blindly based on the recommendations of others.)
One of the newer and lesser known series that takes place in New York is this regional festival presented by HBO, which offers roughly a dozen features and shorts from India, Pakistan and the region, along with musical events and parties. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m seriously out of the loop when it comes to the films from Bollywood and the surrounding region, but those who are into those films will have a good chance to see many Indian films earlier than their U.S. release.
It runs this week from November 18 to the 23rd, kicking off tonight with the World Premiere of X., a film that’s been assembled from the work of 11 different Indian filmmakers. This isn’t an anthology ala The ABCs of Death or the V/H/S movies (the latest one released this week) or the “Fill-in-the-black City I Love You” movies, but rather is one single story with different segments handled by different directors. The festival’s centerpiece is Happy Ending, Krishna D.K. and Raj Nidimoru’s romantic comedy, which opens in India and Pakistan this very weekend (and would probably beat “Mockingjay” if they were crazy enough to open it there the same week). This year’s SAIFF ends on Sunday with No Maloom Afrad from Pakistani director Nabeel Qureshi.
You can see the full list of films playing the festival here as well as learn about the other events/parties during the week.
Other Limited Releases of Note:
V/H/S: Viral (Magnet Labs)
Directors: Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento, Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Blair Redford, Carrie Keagan, Michael Flores
Of Note: The third installment of the horror anthology features a new batch of filmmakers including Spain’s Nacho Vigalondo (whose Open Windows was just released last week), Justin Benson (Resolution).
Extraterrestrial (IFC Midnight)
Director: Colin Minihan
Stars: Brittany Allen, Freddie Stroma, Melanie Papalia, Jesse Moss, Anja Savcic, Sean Rogerson, Emily Perkins, Mike Kovac, Ian Brown, Fred Keating
Of Note: Fresh from its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival is this midnight movie involving Brittany Allen (from “All My Children”) as a young woman taking a vacation at her family’s cabin in the woods when a fireball explodes nearby and she and her boyfriend and friends go out to explore. Seems like a fairly typical “Cabin in the Woods” style horror movie.
Reach Me (Millennium Entertainment)
Director: John Herzfeld
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Tom Berenger, Kevin Connolly, Kyra Sedgwick, Nelly, Cary Elwes, Thomas Jane, Terry Crews, Danny Aiello, Kelsey Grammer, Lauren Cohan, Ryan Kwanten, Tom Sizemore
Of Note: The return of the director of ‘90s schlock returns with a movie about a motivational book (written by Tom Berenger) that goes viral affecting a diverse group of people, played by the likes of Sly Stallone, Kyra Sedgwick, Thomas Jane, Cary Elwes and more.
Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets (Oscilloscope)
Directors: Florian Habicht
Of Note: One of the more popular “Britpop” bands of the last 25 years, the film follows Jarvis Cocker and his bandmates leading up to their farewell concert in Sheffield, England.
Bad Hair (Cinema Tropical)
Director: Mariana Rondón
Stars: Samuel Lange Zambrano, Samantha Castillo, Beto Benites
Of Note: A Venezuelan comedy about a nine-year-old living with his widowed mother who tries to iron out his curly mane, causing her to suspect her son is gay. It opens exclusively at New York’s Film Forum on Wednesday.
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Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas