The Weekend Warrior

Long Distance Box Office: The Hunger Games

Source: Edward Douglas
December 12, 2011

Our apologies that we've been taking a couple of weeks off to catch up on other things awards-related, but we're going to tackle one of the movies we've been shirking for far too long and that is the anticipated Lionsgate adaptation of Suzanne Collins' popular novel The Hunger Games. It opens on March 23 in a fairly quiet weekend along with the long-delayed Eddie Murphy movie A Thousand Words.

The book has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for over 100 consecutive weeks and has roughly 3 million copies in print worldwide, which isn't quite on par with Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" books and nowhere even near the "Harry Potter" books, but the people who've read the books certainly are very vocal about them, which is one of the reasons the movie is being made and why it has the potential to be a huge success.

Helming the adaptation is filmmaker Gary Ross, making his first movie since the Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit in 2003, which was only his second movie as a director. It's certainly a strange departure for Ross from his previous movies, both which starred Tobey Maguire, but like Bill Condon, who is currently directing the last chapter of "The Twilight Saga," Ross has the prestige of having helmed an Oscar-nominated movie which holds him in high regard with Hollywood even if he doesn't have the genre fanbase to help bring in that audience.

The biggest deal about The Hunger Games is the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old girl who is forced to become a warrior in order to survive and save her family. Earlier this year, Lawrence was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the indie drama Winter's Bone, but then over the summer, she followed Rebecca Romijn as Mystique in Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class, which raised awareness of her even more.

Katniss has two love interests in the book and in the movie, they're played by two young actors who are likely to be the next Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner if they play their cards right. Playing Peeta Mellark, the teen who ends up in the Hunger Games with Katniss, is 19-year-old Josh Hutcherson, who has been acting from the age of 10 and getting bigger roles with each successive year, getting lead roles in movies like Little Manhattan, Jon Favreau's Zathura, Disney's Bridge to Terabithia and New Line's 3D adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth - he'll be starring in the sequel to this in February without any of his co-stars from the previous movie. Hutcherson was also a part of the ensemble cast of Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, which won a number of awards including a Golden Globe. Playing Katniss' childhood friend Gale is Liam Hemsworth, Thor's little brother, who was cast opposite Miley Cyrus in the romantic drama The Last Song.

The cast is filled with a number of better-known actors playing beloved characters from the novels, including the likes of Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Alexander Ludwig, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz, as well as a few lesser-known actors, but the cast isn't really isn't that important to the film's success, because it's more about translating what's on the page onto the screen as faithfully as possible.

The very first look at The Hunger Games took place during one of MTV's awards shows where they debuted a teaser and "Entertainment Weekly" has been on the case in terms of premiering photos from the movie, both of them trying to be at the forefront of the "Hunger Games" promotion, just like they were with "Twilight." The more recent full-length trailer seems to have been done more to inform non-readers of the story but it focuses more on the drama and romance than it does on the action that takes place in the arena, which means it's preaching more to the converted than presenting something that might get non-readers excited.

There have been lots of great fansites and others offering round-the-clock support for the project, including my good friend Perri Nemiroff's "Hunger Games Countdown" over at Movies.com, which takes a weekly look at what's going on around the 'net in terms of progress on the movies. I honestly have no idea how much traffic these sites get and if they're quite on par with some of the ones for "Harry Potter," but they're clearly there to help keep the excitement going, especially with some of the viral campaigns that have popped up over the last few months.

Obviously, there are a lot of fans of the books who are very excited about this movie, and the only question is whether the movie will deliver something they can get behind when it comes to sequels, the first Catching Fire, which is already slated for a release in late 2013. More importantly, the movie should introduce many non-readers to Collins' books and if the books continue to sell, then it will allow the future movies to fare even better.

We think The Hunger Games will end up with around $55 to 58 million its opening weekend, but it should be able to get up to around $180 million or more if it's anywhere near as good as the books and people start discovering it. Like the "Twilight" sequels, the second movie Catching Fire should open significantly higher and probably do more business, as should the finale.

Next time, we're going to look at an anticipated sequel to a hit comedy franchise coming out next April.




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