Box Office Shocker: 'Hunger Games' Has Potential for $130 Mil to $140 Mil Debut

Stanley Tucci and Jennifer Lawrence

Stanley Tucci plays Caesar Flickerman, the energetic host of the Hunger Games who interviews the tributes before the deadly competition begins.

Tracking services are giving a more conservative estimate of $82 million to $115 million, but data shared with studio insiders suggests interest in the movie is on par with Hollywood's biggest tentpoles, including "The Dark Knight."

With the opening of the The Hunger Games fast approaching, interest in the Lionsgate movie is blowing Hollywood away.

Tracking data released Monday boasted levels usually reserved for marquee sequels, including The Dark Knight, according to those who have seen the surveys.

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Rival studios and other box-office observers now believe Hunger Games could gross $130 million to $140 million, but they caution that those sorts of numbers can be tough outside of summer.

Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling young-adult novel, opens Friday. The film, directed by Gary Ross, headlines Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.

In the past week alone, unaided awareness jumped from an already-stellar 21 percent to 29 percent, while definite interest rose from an impressive 60 percent to 62 percent.

For Lionsgate and producer Nina Jacobson, the understandable concern is to manage expectations. Any opening above $100 million would be a great start for the franchise, considering the first Twilight debuted to $69.6 million. And Hunger Games certainly has a shot at surpassing the $116 million earned by 2010's Alice in Wonderland to become the biggest March opener of all time.

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Tracking services are erring on the side of caution, forecasting an $82 million to $115 million debut. Because they are studio clients, it's not unusual for them to be conservative.

But unlike the Twilight franchise, another best-selling young-adult book series spun into movies, Hunger Games is drawing serious interest among males.

"They are hitting it out of the park when it comes to all audience segments," said one veteran film executive. "No matter how you slice and dice it, this is an all-audience, four-quadrant movie."

Females younger than 25 who list Hunger Games as their first choice among movies in release or opening this weekend has skyrocketed from 45 percent last week to 55 percent, and the numbers jumped from 29 percent to 40 percent among women over 25.

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The numbers for men are also impressive. Males over 25 who list the film as their first choice has leapt from 20 percent a week ago to 36 percent and from 20 percent to 35 percent among males under 25.

While Hunger Games has the advantage of being rated PG-13, it runs roughly 2 hours, 20 minutes -- cutting into the number of showings.

The pic is doing strong presale business, with online-ticketing service Fandango reporting more than 1,200 sold-out shows. In another boost for the movie's box-office potential, it is playing in Imax theaters, which have sold out 150 midnight screenings and are adding 3 a.m. runs.

Hunger Games is generating huge interest online. Late Monday, said that in the 30 days leading up to the movie's release, page views were double those for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, which debuted to $138.1 million in November, and 78 percent higher than June release Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.2 million).