Box Office Upset: ‘Hunger Games’ on Course to Top ‘Wish’ With $42 Million on Thanksgiving Weekend

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As Lionsgate’s prequel hits its stride, Disney’s animated film could sink below Sony/Apple’s “Napoleon”

box office hunger games
Lucky Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman) stands before the Hunger Games broadcast in "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" (Lionsgate)

The Thanksgiving box office has brought with it an upset for the No. 1 spot, as Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is hitting its stride and earning a stronger-than-expected $42 million over the 5-day holiday period, according to industry estimates.

There’s still a long way to go this weekend, but if that result holds, “Hunger Games” will top Sony/Apple’s biopic “Napoleon” and Disney’s animated film “Wish,” the latter of which had been expected to take No. 1.

With a B+ on CinemaScore, “Songbirds and Snakes” headed into the holiday weekend needing to buck the trend of films falling down the charts if they earn less than an A- on the audience poll. That has proven to be the case as the film has turned a $44.6 million opening weekend into an estimated two-weekend total of $96 million.

On the flipside, “Wish” was expected to top the charts this weekend with a 5-day launch as high as $50 million, but instead has seen its industry estimates sink to a soft $33.5 million after Disney’s 100th anniversary film grossed just $12.1 million through Thursday. Disney is estimating a slightly better weekend at $35-38 million.

While any result in the mid-30s range would be an improvement from the abysmal $18.1 million 5-day opening that Disney’s “Strange World” earned last year, it is a far cry from the $82 million that “Moana” earned on Thanksgiving weekend in 2016, a figure “Wish” wasn’t expected to reach but which Disney hoped would get closer to.

“Wish” has found some traction with families, but the general audiences that came out to past Thanksgiving Disney films are largely opting to see “Hunger Games” or “Napoleon,” while Universal/DreamWorks’ “Trolls Band Together,” which is grossing an estimated $23 million over five days, is peeling off some interest in “Wish” among parents and kids even as it dropped 48% from Wednesday to Thursday.

The one bright spot for “Wish” is that it has been well received by its core demo with an A- on CinemaScore, similar to “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Frozen II.” “Wish” may be able to leg out through December similar to how Pixar’s “Elemental” legged out through the summer for a decent $495 million global box office haul, but it will need to stand out against family competition like “Trolls 3,” Illumination’s “Migration,” and Warner Bros.’ “Wonka.

“Napoleon” is currently in third on the charts but could edge out “Wish” as well with a $33 million 5-day opening, topping projections for a $25 million start.

Like Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Ridley Scott’s biopic about Napoleon Bonaparte is a big-budget, auteur-driven film where the massive $200 million budget has been footed entirely by Apple in its efforts to boost streaming numbers on Apple TV+ while working with legacy studio partners on theatrical distribution.

That means the box office downside is practically non-existent for Sony Picturs on “Napoleon,” while we won’t really know whether films like “Flower Moon” and “Napoleon” truly brought Apple a return on investment until they hit streaming early next year. Scott has promised that “Napoleon” will have a nearly four-hour director’s cut that will be released on Apple TV+.

The bad news for “Napoleon” is that opening night audiences were decidedly mixed, giving the film a B- on CinemaScore, similar to the reception it earned among critics with a 60% Rotten Tomatoes score.

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