Box-Office Preview: 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2' Targets $120M-$125M in U.S.

Murray Close/LIONSGATE

'The Night Before' and 'Secret in Their Eyes' also open nationwide, while 'Carol' and 'Legend' debut at the specialty box office.

Katniss Everdeen and her gang begin their last stand at the box office this weekend as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 opens in more than 4,000 theaters in North America. It also it rolls out in virtually every international market, including China.

Domestically, the final title in Lionsgate's blockbuster YA franchise is tracking to open in the $120 million-$125 million range, in line with the $121.9 million opening of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 on the same weekend a year ago. That was a steep fall-off from the record-breaking debuts of The Hunger Games in 2012 ($152.5 million) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in 2013 ($158.1 million), although a $100 million-plus opening is nothing to sneeze at. One difference: The first films received far better reviews than the final two.

Mockingjay 2 hopes to match or exceed the $153.4 million international opening of Mockingjay 1, which didn't have the advantage of opening day-and-date in China. All told, the movie is opening in 87 markets.

Francis Lawrence returns in the director's chair, while Jennifer Lawrence reteams with Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.

The Hunger Games film series, based on the books by Suzanne Collins, was a defining moment for Lionsgate, giving the studio its first major franchise. Hunger Games also made Lawrence a household name. Produced by Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik, the first two films boast two of the biggest openings of all time, as well as the top opening ever for a movie with a female lead. The first three titles have grossed a massive $2.3 billion at the global box office. To date, Mockingjay 1 is the No. 1 earner with $755.4 million.

The two other films daring to open opposite Mockingjay 2 are Jonathan Levine's R-rated comedy The Night Before, starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie; and The Secret in their Eyes, starring Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman.

Sony opens The Night Before nearly a year after the studio was brought to its knees by a cyberattack carried out in retaliation for Rogen's The Interview. Rogen's latest film, costing $26 million and targeting males, follows three childhood friends who reunite in New York City on Christmas Eve. Tracking shows the movie opening in the $10 million-$15 million range, while Sony is being more cautious, suggesting $8 million-$10 million.

Secret in their Eyes, lacking no amount of star power, is tracking to open to $10 million-$12 million. Similar to Sony, distributor STX Entertainment is being more conservative, projecting $7 million-$9 million. IM Global is handling the $19 million movie overseas. It's the second release from STX — the company has ambitious plans to become a major Hollywood studio — after this summer's The Gift, which earned a better-than-expected $43.8 million all in.

STX partnered with Route One Entertainment in paying $6.5 million for domestic rights to Secret in Their Eyes, about a D.A. (Roberts) whose life is upended when her daughter is murdered. Two colleagues, an FBI investigator (Ejiofor) and a prosecutor (Kidman), come to her aid, but the killer eludes justice. More a decade later, a new lead is uncovered and the trio vow to avenge the crime.

Secret in Their Eyes hopes to serve as a date-night offering for older adults throughout the Thanksgiving holiday corridor, but will need good word-of-mouth. So far, no one knows how the movie has been received by critics, since STX asked that reviews not be published until Nov. 19.

One film boasting stellar notices is Todd Haynes' awards contender Carol, starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler. The Weinstein Co. opens Carol, a lesbian drama set in the 1950s, in four theaters in New York and Los Angles.

Director Brian Helgeland's Legend, starring Tom Hardy, also opens in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York, but has been mostly skewered by critics. The movie, from Studio Canal, Working Title Films and Cross Creek Pictures, is being released by Universal in the U.S. and stars Tom Hardy in a double turn as two of London's most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie Kray.
Legend has done big business in the U.K. and Ireland with more than $28 million in ticket sales there.