“The Hunger Games” beat even the most optimistic box-office expectations in its debut weekend, grossing an estimated $155 million domestically and setting several records.
Lionsgate’s movie opened bigger than any movie ever to open in the period between January and April. It is the biggest non-sequel opening ever and the third-biggest movie opening ever.
The PG-13 movie is about a dystopian future in which the government of the North American nation of Panem punishes its population for a long-ago rebellion by forcing children — a girl and a boy — from each of its dozen districts to fight to the death in an annual, nationally televised spectacle.
"Hunger Games" was the only major film to open this weekend. Last week's No. 1 movie, Sony's "21 Jump Street," fell to No. 2 in America, taking a respectable $21.3 million. That's a 41 percent drop from last week. Universal's 4-week-old "The Lorax" is No. 3, with a $13.1 million weekend take.
Overall — and largely on the shoulders of "The Hunger Games" — the weekend box office was up a remarkable 75 percent compared to the same weekend in 2011.
Lionsgate did not announce its pre-release expectation, though outside box-office watchers predicted the movie would exceed $120 million. The movie, based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling young adult novel, cost about $100 million to make — $80 million after tax incentives.
The studio declined to get into the specifics of its pre-release expectations Sunday morning, but acknowledged that the $155 million opening was surprising.
"We all knew it was going to be a very successful weekend," David Spitz, Lionsgate's head of distribution, told TheWrap Sunday morning. "It was just an incredible achievement."
Its midnight showing was the biggest ever for a non-sequel: $19.7 million. In all, it took $68.25 million on Friday and $51 million on Saturday. Lionsgate estimates the movie will gross $36 million on Sunday.
It did $10.6 million on IMAX screens alone. That averages $40,000 per IMAX screen — a record for an IMAX digital release. The previous high was $6.4 million for "Thor" in 2011.
It more than doubled the opening weekend take of the first "Twilight" movie, which grossed $69.6 million in 2008, and bested "Spider-Man," which opened to $114.8 million in 2002.
Even before the film opened on Friday, it was a phenomenon. Days before it was released, it had sold out nearly 2,000 screens, according to the online ticketing company Fandango. MovieTickets.com reported the same: nearly 2,500 screenings that company offered had sold out going into the weekend, and more than 450 screenings for Sunday through Thursday are sold out.
Once audiences saw "Hunger Games," they liked it: The survey firm Cinemascore gave the movie an "A," and viewers younger than 25 gave it an "A+."
The opening weekend audience made up mostly of females — 61 percent of audience members were female, and 56 percent were 25 and older.
At IMAX locations, males outnumbered females, though the company did not have precise numbers Sunday morning.
Lionsgate's biggest film ever posted strong numbers abroad, as well as domestically, taking $59.25 million.
"The Hunger Games" is the first of a trilogy of novels, which Lionsgate plans to turn into a four-film franchise.
The "A" Cinemascore, favorable critical reaction and strong cast — it stars Academy Award-nominees Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, young favorites Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth and established stars Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley and Lenny Kravitz — give Lionsgate reason to believe the movie will continue to enjoy a strong run well past this weekend.
Even if it drops by 70 percent next weekend, it will take $46 million. The other movies opening next weekend are Relativity's "Mirror Mirror," which looks to be on track to open in the low $20 millions and the Warner Bros. "Wrath of the Titans," which is looking at somewhere near $40 million.
The next "Hunger Games" movie is "Catching Fire," which Lionsgate plans to release in November 2013.