This story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It’s not just the stakes that are higher as Katniss Everdeen returns to the arena for The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire. The budget is escalating as well. For its follow-up to last year’s hit The Hunger Games, which opens Nov. 22, Lionsgate upped the film’s budget from $78 million to north of $130 million.
Although Lionsgate brass wouldn’t comment on Catching Fire‘s price tag, project insiders say several factors led to the extra $52 million. The mini-studio, led by CEO Jon Feltheimer and film chiefs Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger, spent more than $10 million to expand the visual effects for the sequel. Star Jennifer Lawrence, who was paid just $500,000 (plus box-office bonuses) to play archer extraordinaire Katniss in the Gary Ross-helmed Hunger Games, got a pay raise of nearly $10 million for Catching Fire. (The male stars received smaller pay bumps.) The remaining $30 million can be chalked up to the broader scope of the film, based on Suzanne Collins‘ best-seller. Catching Fire contains more scenes and more locations (the film shot in Georgia and Hawaii versus The Hunger Games‘ single shoot in North Carolina). Director Francis Lawrence increased the length of the production from 84 to 89 days.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for a hit franchise to get a budget bump for its second outing. (The Twilight sequel New Moon‘s cost jumped $13 million over the first film’s $37 million.) But Catching Fire’s $52 million boost — representing a 67 percent increase — is a bit unusual.
Still, Lionsgate has money to burn. Hunger Games earned $691 million worldwide in 2012, and the goal with Catching Fire is to broaden the appeal of the female-friendly franchise.
It appears to be working. After tickets went on sale Oct. 1, Fandango reported that Catching Fire was outpacing all previous wide releases 50 days before their release date.