LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – Post-apocalyptic action movie “The Hunger Games” opened with a staggering $155 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices, beating Hollywood’s lofty expectations and making history as the third-highest domestic film opening.
Internationally, the Lions Gate Entertainment drama about an oppressive society’s teen death match added $59.3 million from 67 markets for a global haul of $214.3 million.
The massive U.S. and Canadian debut for the film ranked behind only last summer’s “Harry Potter” finale and 2008 Batman movie “The Dark Knight,” Lions Gate said on Su nday.
The movie’s success brings the first blockbuster franchise to Lions Gate, a smaller Hollywood studio best known previously for the “Saw” horror series and comedian Tyler Perry’s films.
“Hunger Games” set records for highest opening of a non-sequel film and biggest debut outside the summer blockbuster season.
“The first movie in a franchise, to post a number like this, is really insane. There is no other word for it,” said Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com.
“‘Harry Potter’ had seven movies before it got to that point, and ‘Dark Knight’ had years and years of building the Batman brand. This movie comes and hangs with them in the same league,” Contrino said.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” opened with $169.2 million domestically over its opening weekend, while “Dark Knight” took in $158.4 million, according to Hollywood. com.
“Hunger Games” is an action-filled survival drama based on the first of three best-selling young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen, a teen girl who fights in a televised battle-to-the-death ordered by her society’s rulers. Everdeen becomes a beacon of hope for freedom against the totalitarian government.
Lions Gate executives got a sense of the huge appetite for “Hunger Games” when they ventured with director Gary Ross and producer Nina Jacobson to the ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood late Thursday ahead of the first screenings just after midnight.
Fans packed the lobby for showings on multiple screens, with many of the book’s devotees dressed as characters. Similar scenes occurred across the country. By Saturday evening, executives went to bed thinking the film would finish the weekend with about $140 million domestically. But sales held up stronger than expected from Friday night to Saturday night, dropping just 25 percent instead of the typical 40 percent or more.
“To launch a franchise like this is incredible. It’s above and beyond our expectations,” David Spitz, executive vice president of domestic distribution for Lions Gate, said on Sunday. “We’re just going to enjoy the ride.”
Going into the weekend, industry forecasters projected about $125 million in domestic receipts from Friday through Sunday. Box-office watchers compared the movie’s drawing power to the “Twilight” vampire romance films, another franchise based on popular young adult books.