Why ‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay’s’ Box-Office Record Isn’t Enough

Lionsgate stock takes a hit despite the $121 million opening of the first part of the franchise finale

When the biggest box office opening of the year is seen as underwhelming, you know the bar was set very high.

Lionsgate Entertainment stock is off roughly five percent at $33.10 in the wake of the $121.8 million opening of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.” That’s because even though it set a new standard, the third entry in the franchise came in under the projections of the studio and analysts, and well below the $150 million-plus debuts of the previous two films.

For Lionsgate, Monday had to feel like a case of déjà vu; Wall Street dropped its shares by 10 percent last year, after “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” opened to $158 million last year at this time — a terrific debut, but short of projections.

This weekend shows that even Katniss Everdeen — Jennifer Lawrence‘s character in “The Hunger Games” movies — isn’t immune to outsized expectations and at least some franchise fatigue.

Less than glowing reviews, the lack of 3D and IMAX showings to goose the grosses and some bad weather on the East Coast didn’t help. “Mockingjay” also very much played like the first part of the finale of the franchise based on Suzanne Collins‘ young adult bestsellers, and that took a toll, too. “Mockingjay – Part 2” — which was shot at the same time as Part 1 — will arrive at this time next year.

Both “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” and Lionsgate’s own “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” saw similar dips, then saw the finale films in the franchise rebound.

That fact and the very impressive $152 million opening weekend for “Mockingjay” overseas — four percent ahead of “Catching Fire” in comparable markets — will keep Lionsgate executives from too much teeth gnashing.

While the opening is causing analysts to revise domestic projections for “Mockingjay – Part 1” downward, some believe the film’s overseas performance will offset that.

“With the first two ‘Hunger Games’ films generating 37 percent of their domestic box office on the opening weekend, we now expect the movie to generate $375 million to $400 million in domestic box office vs. our prior estimate of $425 million,” said B. Riley analyst Eric Wold.

He believes overseas could mitigate or offset any domestic weakness, given its strong first weekend abroad.

“If that strength holds we could still see total global box office for ‘Hunger Games 3’ reach our original estimate of $850 million,” Wold said.

The bottom line is that “The Hunger Games” remains a franchise that has shown unprecedented early strength — no other film series has seen its first three films debut to more than $120 million. And barring the unforeseen, here’s betting that that the franchise finale next fall will be the biggest performer of all the “Hunger Games” movies for Katniss and Co.

And we’ll see if the stock still drops.