Box-Office Preview: Can 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' Make Franchise History?

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 Still 7 - H 2014
Courtesy of Lionsgate

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 Still 7 - H 2014

Either way, the penultimate installment is on course to score the top opening of the year in North America

If Katniss Everdeen aims her arrow just right, The Hunger Games could become the first film franchise in Hollywood history to have three installments open to $150 million or more in North America, not accounting for inflation.

Based on prerelease tracking, most box-office observers believe The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 will open to at least $150 million this weekend, although Lionsgate is being more cautious, suggesting a range of $130 million-$150 million.

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Without a doubt, Mockingjay will score the top opening of the year so far in a much-needed boost for the domestic box office as the year-end holidays get underway, easily eclipsing the $100 million debut of Transformers: Age of Extinction this summer. Moreover, it will be the biggest three-day opening since The Hunger Games: Catching Fire launched to $158.1 million the same weekend a year ago.

The first installment, The Hunger Games, debuted to $152.5 million in March 2013, catapulting Jennifer Lawrence to stardom and shattering records.

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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 based on Suzanne Collins' blockbuster YA book series.

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 Nov. 20, 2015.

The franchise is also a huge performer overseas. Catching Fire took in $864.6 million worldwide last year, including $439.9 million internationally and $424.7 million in North America. Mockingjay — Part 1 opens in most major foreign markets this weekend, although it won't be released in China until next year.

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If Lionsgate is being cautious in terms of the threequel's North American opening, it's because the movie won't have the benefit of playing in Imax, as did the first two films, since Imax is still carrying Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.

Interstellar and Big Hero 6, opening earlier this month, have enjoyed strong holds thus far, but Mockingjay is sure to dampen returns for a number of titles, which explains why it is the only new release this weekend.