Box Office: 'Mockingjay' Earns $55M Friday Amid Franchise Decline

The threequel may be trailing the first two films in the U.S. but is still doing massive business

In a surprise twist, Lionsgate's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 isn't matching the record-breaking numbers of the first two films in North America.

Everything is relative, of course. Mockingjay is still doing massive business and is the year's top performer to date, grossing $55 million Friday to blow past the $41.9 million earned this summer by Transformers: Age of Extinction on its first Friday. And it will have no trouble beating the $100 million debut of Age of Extinction, the year's current best.

Friday's showing puts Mockingjay on course for a domestic opening in the $125 million to $130 million range, compared to $158.1 million for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a year ago and $152.5 million for The Hunger Games two years ago. Conversely, it's pacing well ahead of the first two films overseas, earning a hefty $67.5 million through Friday alone.

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Heading into the weekend, most tracking services showed Mockingjay opening to $145 million to $150 million in North America, although Lionsgate was much more cautious, suggesting as low as $130 million. It's true that Mockingjay is the first film in the series without an Imax berth (that's because Imax is still carrying Interstellar) but that equates to less than $5 million.

Friday's take — among the top 20 of all time — was down 23 percent from Catching Fire's Friday haul ($71 million) and 18 percent from Hunger Games ($67.3 million). Mockingjay earned an A- CinemaScore, compared to an A for the first two.

Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence reprises his duties for Mockingjay, which again stars Lawrence opposite Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and introduces Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer to the series, which is based on Suzanne Collins' blockbuster YA book series.

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Lionsgate decided to split Collins' final book into two films. Director Lawrence shot them back-to-back at a reported cost of $250 million. Mockingjay — Part 2 is set to open on Nov. 20, 2015.

Internationally, Mockingjay is scoring the best numbers of the year in numerous markets, and could finish Sunday with $150 million to $170 million, compared to $146 million for Catching Fire. The movie earned $8.2 million in the U.K. in its first two days, up 6 percent from Catching Fire. Germany's two-day total is a whopping $6 million, and in Russia, $5.2 million. It's also breaking franchise records in Latin America.

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Elsewhere in North America, Disney's animated family film, Big Hero 6, will place No. 2 for the weekend with $19 million to $20 million, pushing its domestic total past $135 million.

Interstellar and Dumb and Dumber To could find themselves in a close race for No. 3 at $14 million-plus each.

In its eighth week in release, David Fincher's box-office sensation Gone Girl will round out the top five, ending Sunday with north of $156 million domestically.

Nov. 21, 1:45 p.m. Updated with weekend projections.

Nov 22, 8 a.m. Updated with Friday numbers.