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'The Hunger Games:' Five lessons from its box-office success

March 26, 2012 |  7:00 am

"The Hunger Games," starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Gary Ross, grossed $155 million at the box office this weekend while earning strong reviews

We all knew Jennifer Lawrence's "The Hunger Games" would be big. But if you actually guessed $155 million in domestic receipts in the office pool, we can only imagine how well you're doing in your March Madness brackets.

So with the film's massive opening -- the third-biggest ever and the biggest ever for a non-sequel, discounting inflation -- what nuggets are glean-able from the popularity of the Suzanne Collins adaptation? A partial rundown:

Literacy rates. As film source material goes, novels' stock has been dropping faster than Duke's title chances did in the NCAA men's basketball tournament this year. Toys, games and sequels of long-dormant properties have in recent years been considered the way to go if you wanted a big hit. But a bestselling book is, perhaps more than ever, the strongest marketing tool a studio can have. Any doubters need only look at the box-office chart: With "The Hunger Games," four of the top six opening weekends in history come from books.

PHOTOS: Meet the main cast of 'The Hunger Games'

The indie effect. The Sundance and mainstream film worlds have been diverging more than intersecting lately -- just look at all the flops that came out of the 2011 crop. It takes a long time for movies, and actors, to make the winding journey from indieville to Hollywood success, if they make it at all. But "The Hunger Games" offers a counter-argument: Just two years ago at Sundance, the two biggest breakouts were "Winter’s Bone" and "The Kids Are All Right." They starred -- and catapulted to success -- two total unknowns by the name of Jennifer Lawrence and Joshua Hutcherson.

Director's paradise. In the post-Christopher Nolan era, there's a lot of attention paid to who producers of a major franchise hire to direct their film. And let's face it: Gary Ross wasn't exactly a hot commodity coming in to "The Hunger Games." In fact, he hadn't directed a movie in nearly a decade. Yet with the teen action pic, he made a movie that not was only a mega-blockbuster but garnered solid reviews (71% positive, according to Movie Review Intelligence).

Kids will be kids. Sure, you could make a tidy sum by selling a movie about kids to kids. But will adults see a youth-oriented film not named "Harry Potter"? If there are some pleasures and themes for them, it turns out they will. Though "The Hunger Games" is about teenagers and is a property devoured by same, more than half the audience for the Lionsgate film this weekend was above the age of 25.

Things look better in 3-D? Perhaps the biggest rebuttal this weekend to a piece of conventional wisdom. For the last few years, the thinking has gone that the gloss of 3-D -- not to mention the higher ticket prices -- was the way to really profit from a movie. But "The Hunger Games" had the biggest-ever opening for a non-sequel by telling its story in good old-fashioned 2-D.

RELATED:

Movie review: "The Hunger Games"

"Hunger Games": Jennifer Lawrence reaps praise from critics

Box Office: "Hunger Games" beats record with $155-million opening weekend

--Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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


 
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