Box Office Shocker: 'Hunger Games' Tracking to Open Bigger Than 'Breaking Dawn'

2012-09 REP The Hunger Games H
Murray Close/Lionsgate

Analysts love the combination of studios behind the hottest youth movie series (the four "Twilight" pics have grossed $2.5 billion worldwide, with a final film due in November) and "The Hunger Games," which could launch another franchise March 23.

Interest is massive in the Lionsgate tentpole; "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1" debuted to $138.1 million in November.

Based on the enormity of tracking for The Hunger Games, the Lionsgate movie has the potential to score one of the top debuts of all time at the domestic box office.

Rarely does a film generate the sort of numbers that Hunger Games is enjoying. When the movie--based on Suzanne Collins' wildly popular young-adult novel--first popped up on tracking two weeks ago, the scores were so good that box-office observers and exhibitors immediately predicted an opening in the $70 million to $100 million range, with most betting on the higher number.

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But with prerelease surveys growing even stronger, those numbers have been revised upward.

Hunger Games, which opens March 23, is even tracking better than The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. That film opened in November to $138.1 million, the fifth-best debut of all time domestically, but had the advantage of bowing the weekend before Thanksgiving, when some kids are out of school.

Box-office observers say it's difficult to predict exactly how much Hunger Games will make, offering a more conservative estimate of $100 million to $120 million. They say it's difficult to predict a number when tracking becomes this big and a film gets into the $100 million-plus range.

Hunger Games certainly has a shot at taking the crown for best March opening from Alice in Wonderland, which debuted to $116.1 million in 2010.

Directed by Gary Ross and produced by Nina Jacobson, Hunger Games headlines Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth. The film had its world premiere March 12 in Los Angeles.

Tracking data released Monday showed definite interest in Hunger Games jumping from 55 percent to 60 percent in the past week, awareness went from 75 percent to 83 percent, unaided awareness from 14 percent to 21 percent and awareness from 75 percent to 83 percent.

"Numbers don't get much higher than this," said one rival studio executive. "Hunger Games is tracking like a sequel, even though it isn't a sequel. It's three times higher than the first Twilight."

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Interest among younger women in Hunger Games is now at 45 percent, compared with 36 percent for Breaking Dawn. Among female over the age of 25, interest is 29 percent, versus 27 percent for Breaking Dawn.

One advantage that Hunger Games has over Summit Entertainment's blockbuster Twilight franchise is male interest.

Monday's tracking showed that Interest in Hunger Games among males younger than 25 was a healthy 28 percent, compared to 10 percent for Breaking Dawn. Interest among males over 25 was 20 percent, versus 8 percent for the fourth Twilight film.

"These are huge, stupid numbers," one box-office observer said.