Something was missing as chattering moviegoers poured out of “The Hunger Games” screening at the Landmark Theater in West Los Angeles on Saturday night.
There were posses of slightly manic young girls, gathered in pods to dissect the saga of Katniss Everdeen. There were older couples, out for the evening. I saw lots of twenty-something couples, being lovey-dovey. And there were pairs of professional women, emanating happy buzz.
Absent were any young men.
The Sunday morning numbers bear this out. Young men, once the pillar of blockbuster math, were largely no-shows. Exit polls by Lionsgate show that the audience skewed 61% female and 39% male.
And well over half of the audience – 56% – was over the age of 25.
This means that in addition to breaking a number of box office records with its $155 million opening weekend haul, “The Hunger Games” has accomplished something even more significant in launching a blockbuster without the critical quadrant of young men.
This is worth examining.
Hollywood only manages to launch a blockbuster franchise once every few years, if a studio gets lucky. Most of the time, these are comic book and science fiction adventure stories translated for the big screen, and their core audience is men, ages 12 to 24.
“Twilight” shattered this formula, becoming a box office tsunami that no one predicted. It was a modestly-budgeted property propelled by young women into a global phenomenon.
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Like “Twilight,” the natural audience for “Hunger Games” lies with young women, the fan base for the series of young adult novels. But “Hunger Games,” which got an “A” on Cinemascore and won the grudging admiration of critics, seems to have crossed over into a broader audience.
(As an aside, though nobody asked, I can tell you why: it’s entertaining, it doesn’t pander and Jennifer Lawrence’s understated performance makes her someone even non-teenagers can care about.)
Lionsgate is happy to let everyone know that the movie tested well against all four quadrants. That may be true, but those who showed up were not primarily that core audience of young men that has increasingly turned to social media and video games instead of the cineplex.
Also read: Photos From 'The Hunger Games' Premiere
This is good news for the movie business. Finding that kind of box office success without massive adoption by young men means that there is a market worth having without them.
Last night, the audience wasn’t even mostly young girls. This particular screening had a fairly even balance of young and old, male and female.
The movie has not necessarily followed the pattern of the book either. My 14-year-old son devoured the series two years ago, but had no interest in going to see the film. Neither did my 18-year-old son or his friends. (Happy to hear from readers who have a different experience.)
But “Hunger Games” didn’t need them. And that’s a sign for Hollywood.