‘Hunger Games’ Poised to Make Franchise History with ‘Mockingjay’

It could become the first series to have $150 million starts for its opening three films

With “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” arriving in theaters nationwide this weekend, the young adult series is about to become the fastest-starting movie franchise ever at the box office.

Should the first installment of the final chapter of Lionsgate’s young adult franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence top $150 million in its domestic opening this weekend — and most analysts believe it will — it would be the first time ever that the initial three movies in a series have opened north of that number. It will also be by far the biggest debut of 2014, ahead of the $100 million summer opening of “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

“The Hunger Games” got things rolling in March 2012 with its $152 million first weekend, on its way to $408 million domestically and $691 million in worldwide grosses. Last November, “Catching Fire” topped that with a $158 million first three days, before finishing with $425 million domestically and $865 million globally.

“The historical significance of this is underplayed,” BoxOffice.com vice president and senior analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap. “‘The Hunger Games’ doesn’t get spoken of in the same realm as ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘The Dark Knight,’ but it should.”

The openings of the first two “Harry Potter” movies in 2001 and 2002 were $88 million and $90 million, respectively. The first two “Dark Knight” films debuted with $158 million and $161 million in 2008 and 2012.

Film franchises often pick up steam as they go, with the first entry providing a base that subsequent films build on, especially overseas. The huge debut of “The Hunger Games” made it a very tough act to follow, but “Catching Fire” did even better, and that’s why few doubt that “Mockingjay” can deliver similar results.

Even with the final episode split into two segments — “Mockingjay – Part 2” arrives in November 2015 — the “Hunger Games” series is scheduled to end after four films.

The key word there might be “scheduled,” Contrino said.

“If this one can match or come close to ‘Catching Fire’ and the next one can come near $1 billion worldwide — and I think it will — does anyone really think they won’t find a way to make another one?”

There are reasons “The Hunger Games” franchise hit the ground running at the box office, and here are some key ones:

The JLaw Factor
She had already made a name for herself with her Oscar-nominated lead performance in the 2010 indie film “Winter’s Bone” and had a small role in “X-Men: First Class” when she took on the role of Katniss Everdeen. When “The Hunger Games” exploded at the box office and into the cultural consciousness, Lawrence’s career did as well. Before “Catching Fire” opened, she starred in “Silver Linings Playbook,” a role for which she would win the Best Actress Oscar. Since then she’s appeared in “American Hustle” — and earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination — and the blockbuster “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” The momentum from both of those films and the surrounding publicity will matter for “Mockingjay.”

“Twilight” Lessons
Before Katniss and Peeta there was Bella and Edward, and the experience in dating, marketing and launching that franchise provided Lionsgate with a blueprint and the internal machinery for rolling out “Hunger Games.” The “Twilight” movies were adaptations of a wildly popular young adult series and similarly targeted young women, and even if hot young vampires aren’t exactly like battling government oppression in a dystopian future, the experience told the studio which marketing and distribution buttons to push, particularly overseas. (It’s also helped the studio launch the “Divergent” series, but that’s a different story.)

Delivering the Males
“The Hunger Games” played to an audience that was 71 percent female and skewed slightly older. But “Catching Fire” was more expensive and seen by many critics as a superior film. It drew a crowd that far more male — just 59 percent were women — and younger. That meant the sequel connected at least to a degree with all four audience quadrants — young and older women, and males of all ages — and that’s how blockbusters are born. If “Mockingjay” can draw crowds anywhere near as broad as “Catching Fire,” it will put up similar grosses.

The Foreign Explosion
The international market has grown exponentially in the past few years, with spectacular expansions in China and Russia and 3D screens proliferating. That opened up new or enlarged markets for the “Hunger Games” movies that earlier franchises like “Harry Potter,” “Pirates of the Carribbean” and “Twilight” never had a shot at. The first adaptation of Suzanne Collins‘ best-selling novels brought in $283 million overseas, and the second skyrocketed to $440 million.