'Hunger Games' Mania: Massive $15 Mil-Plus in Advance Ticket Sales (Exclusive)

Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Jennifer Lawrence

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) sit together for a moment. Effie is the escort for the District 12 tributes, while Haymitch, a former tribute himself, is their mentor.

Also on Wednesday, the Lionsgate film cracked Fandango's all-time top five of advance sellers, overtaking "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" and "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" to claim the No. 4 spot.

Lionsgate's The Hunger Games -- which begins its domestic rollout at midnight Thursday -- is expected to generate big numbers out of the gate, based on sizable presales activity.

By Wednesday afternoon, the country's top theater circuits -- including AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment -- already had whipped up north of $15 million in ticket sales, according to those who have seen the figures.

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It's likely that a sizable portion of the tickets are for midnight and Friday runs, though there are reports of Saturday sales as well. One exhibitor believes Hunger Games could rack up $20 million or more in midnight earnings, one of the best showings ever.

Also on Wednesday, Hunger Games cracked Fandango's all-time top five of presellers, an elite roster made up of the final two Harry Potter films and the past three Twilight pics. Hunger Games rose to No. 4, overtaking The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, respectively.

By Thursday morning, Hunger Games is expected to leap ahead of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 in terms of advance ticket sales to claim the No. 3 spot.

As a reference, Breaking Dawn Part 1 collected $30.2 million in midnight runs last fall on its way to opening to $138.2 million; of course, Hunger Games doesn't have the advantage of being a known film property.

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Directed by Gary Ross, the big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' young-adult novel headlines Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.

Based on the extraordinary strength of tracking for the movie, most in Hollywood believe Hunger Games will eclipse the $116 million opening of Alice in Wonderland in 2010 to become the biggest March opener of all time, and some box-office observers and exhibitors now think it can open to $130 million to $140 million, making it one of the biggest domestic debuts of all time.