“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” scorches, sizzles and light ups the till, various headlines tells us, with the best box office opening ever for November. It busted out of the Lionsgate Entertainment’s marketing machine with $161.1 million in weekend sales.
But not everyone is reading the opening numbers as positively as they would appear on the surface. The take for “the sequel about teens fighting to the death in a totalitarian world” was “a bit light,” Jordon Laycob, manager of the Marsico Flexible Capital Fund in Denver, tells Bloomberg’s Ben Livesey and Dan Hart. “The real test will be how it holds up into next weekend.”
Laycob adds that the film’s gross was about $10 million short of Lionsgate’s pre-opening estimates but Stifel Nicolaus & Co. analyst Benjamin Mogil feels it is “poised to dominate the box office for three weeks and may earn … $400 million or more through its share of ticket sales, DVDs, pay television and free TV.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Fritz allows that although it’s the fourth best opening ever in the U.S., it’s “not much bigger than the original ‘Hunger Games’ in March of 2012, which opened to $152.5 million. The difference is particularly modest given that the new movie had the advantage of starting screenings at 8 p.m. Thursday, compared to 12 a.m. Friday morning for the original on its first weekend,” he points out.
“The bottom line appears to be that the ‘Hunger Games’ fan base remains huge, but hasn’t grown significantly in the past year and a half,” writes Fritz. But it has, apparently, expanded.
“The sequel’s greater success can partly be credited to the fact that it’s drawing a broader audience,” observes the Los Angeles Times’ Jessica Gelt. “Exit-poll data shows that the audience is 12% more male than it was for the original film, raising the proportion of male audience members to a healthy 41%. The audience was evenly split between viewers over and under 25.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Paul Bond, meanwhile, has a piece about how people — and larger-than-life people like movie stars — are all seeing what they want to see in the politics of the dystopian movie.
Donald Sutherland, who plays the sinister president in the flick, told The Guardian that he hopes the film “will ‘stir up a revolution,’ which to him means that young people will be encouraged to agitate for left-wing causes like more food stamps, solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, the closure of Guantanamo and opposition to energy drilling and drone strikes,” Bond writes.
But he also points out that Tea Party conservatives have already staked a claim on “Katniss Everdeen’s incipient rebellion against the tyranny of the effete, aestheticized and affluent Capital,” as Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir writes.
Woody Harrelson, meanwhile, sees his own anarchistic tendencies mirrored in the uprising. “And Jeffrey Wright, who plays Beetee, told Hypable.com that “Catching Fire” is “welcoming of the entire political spectrum,” Bond points out.
Co-star Josh Hutcherson, all of 21, hosted “Saturday Night Live” this weekend to somewhatmixed reviews. In reviewing the evening, Rolling Stones’ Gwynne Watkins makes an observation that the “biggest disappointment may have been the absence of commercial parodies, which is where those ‘Hunger Games’ jokes would really have paid off. Didn't the insane product placement surrounding the film — the official Hunger Games Subway sandwich, for example — inspire anybody in the writers' room?”
Then there’s the “JLaw” factor. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays heroine Katniss Everdeen, has seen her likeability continue to rise after winning the Academy Award for best actress last year for her role in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Her appeal was rounded up by ABCNews.com’s Luchina Fisher a couple of weeks ago in a “10 Reasons to Love Jennifer Lawrence” slide presentation.
Any young woman who can diss mean girls, decry the sexualization of young women in Hollywood and “go toe-to-toe with Jack Nicholson” is clearly a force to be reckoned with. “Katniss can’t help but be the inspiration she is,” ABC critic David Balustein says in his “four-and-a-half out of five stars” review of the movie.
One gets the same feeling about Lawrence, who is not only “unashamedly herself (giving the press room the finger when collecting her Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook”), she's also compulsively honest and funny,” as Sacha Bonsor points out in the notes for its cover story for November’s Harper’s Bizarre UK.
Meanwhile, the Independent, in a “Five Reasons To Watch …” piece, ends with the best bit of marketing magic a movie could muster: “the end will leave you on a cliff-hanger, ready for the third and final installment.”