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Box Office: 'Hunger Games' beats record with $155-million debut [Updated]

The Hunger Games was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend

Lionsgate hit a bull's-eye with “The Hunger Games” this weekend, as the story of expert archer Katniss Everdeen and her battle for survival debuted with a record-breaking $155 million at the box office.

The film starring Jennifer Lawrence posted the third-highest domestic debut of all time, behind only the $169.2-million opening for the final "Harry Potter" installment and the $158.4-million launch of "The Dark Knight." That means "The Hunger Games" also grossed more on its opening weekend than any other non-sequel.

The astronomical level of receipts began rolling in after midnight on Friday, when the movie raked in nearly $20 million on just its first night in theaters. Moviegoers immediately responded positively to the film about teenagers in a fight to the death, assigning the picture an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That's good news for Lionsgate, as it means the movie could have legs with fans who didn't rush out to see the movie during its first weekend in theaters.

The crowd who saw the film this weekend was slightly more female, as 61% of the audience were women. By comparison, the most recent "Twilight" film attracted an 80% female contingent back in November, indicating part of the success of "The Hunger Games" had to do with its appeal to both genders. Both adults and teenagers showed up to the multiplex as well, with 56% of the audience over the age of 25.

"People were walking out of the initial screenings saying 'Wow, this is a real movie,'" said David Spitz, Lionsgate's executive vice president of distribution. "And that was because of the critical response, and what [director] Gary Ross did in hiring Jennifer Lawrence and actors like Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson."

Based on the first novel in author Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young-adult trilogy, "The Hunger Games" did go over well with critics, notching a 86% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie features 21-year-old Oscar nominee Lawrence in her biggest role to date, and also stars young newcomers Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth. The next installment in the series, "Catching Fire," is slated to hit theaters in November 2013.

The movie played well across the country, in New York and Boston as well as in Salt Lake City, where a Utah theater had the weekend's highest gross for "The Hunger Games." On Friday and Saturday, Megaplex Theatre in South Jordan, Utah, collected $276,000 in sales. The location is part of a six-theater circuit that has drummed up interest in the movie through special film-themed events, including a reenactment of the Hunger Games themselves.

The movie will be the biggest success thus far for independent studio Lionsgate, which produced the film for a little over $80 million after tax credits from North Carolina, where it was shot. After its opening weekend alone, "The Hunger Games" is already the studio's highest-grossing film, besting Michael Moore's 2004 documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," which collected $119.2 million by the end of its run.

Overseas, the movie opened in most foreign countries. To limit its financial risk, Lionsgate sold off the film's international distribution rights, and has already recouped over half of the film's production budget. But that means that if the film is a blockbuster abroad, the studio won't see as many of the benefits. 

[Updated, 11:40 a.m. March 25: Lionsgate released the international grosses for "The Hunger Games" later Sunday morning, and ticket sales have not been as strong abroad as they have been domestically. Playing in 67 foreign markets, the movie collected $59.3 million — a solid but not spectacular start abroad. The movie performed best in English-speaking markets such as the United Kingdom and Australia, where the picture grossed $10 million. The international results are roughly in line with the first installments in the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" franchises, indicating that the sequels to "The Hunger Games" will likely make far more money.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic office, with international results when available, according to studio estimates:

1. "The Hunger Games" (Lionsgate): Opened to $155 million. $59.3 million overseas in 67 foreign markets.

2. "21 Jump Street" (Sony/MGM): $21.3 million on its second weekend, down 41%. Domestic total: $71.1 million. $5.3 million overseas in 14 foreign markets. International total: $16 million.

3. "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" (Universal): $13.1 million on its fourth weekend, down 42%. Domestic total: $177.3 million. $5.5 million overseas in 25 foreign markets. International total: $21.3 million.

4. "John Carter" (Disney): $5 million on its third weekend, down 63%. Domestic total: $62.3 million. $22.2 million overseas in 54 foreign markets. International total: $172.1 million.

5. "Act of Valor" (Relativity/Bandito Bros.): $2.1 million on its fifth weekend, down 45%. Domestic total: $65.9 million.

6. "Project X" (Warner Bros.): $2 million on its fourth weekend, down 52%. Domestic total: $51.8 million. $4.4 million overseas in 27 foreign markets. International total: $20.8 million.

7. "A Thousand Words" (Paramount/DreamWorks): $1.9 million on its third weekend, down 47%. Domestic total: $14.9 million.

8. "October Baby" (Samuel Goldwyn/Provident): Opened to $1.7 million.

9. "Safe House" (Universal/Relativity): $1.4 million on its seventh weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $122.6 million. $2.3 million overseas in 42 foreign markets. International total: $71.1 million.

10. "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (Warner Bros.): $1.4 million on its seventh weekend, down 43%. Domestic total: $97.2 million. International total: $212 million.]

RELATED:

Utah theater chain turns 'The Hunger Games' into an event

'Hunger Games' collects nearly $20 million from late night shows

'Hunger Games' grosses $68 million Friday, earns 'A' CinemaScore

— Amy Kaufman
twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence stars in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Lionsgate

 
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