When a film is set to make the exorbitant amount of money that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire surely will this coming weekend, further lamenting the woes of global capital via cultural products will undoubtedly find little purchase among fans ready to see Katniss and Peeta unwillingly do battle yet again for (and against) the Capitol. Nevertheless, take note of Thelma Adams’s review, which details how “The Hunger Games has become a victim of its own success, co-opted by Hollywood, a rebel not without a cause, a money minter.” Adams’s attention to film-as-product engages a discussion of economics too often omitted from film reviews, especially when a film’s “call to arms” doubles as a “call to more ticket sales.”
This week, a more essential nerdist box-office question emerges: Can Catching Fire top the $207.4 million opening weekend of The Avengers without the support of 3D showings? And true to the spirit of this franchise, it’s only appropriate to evaluate the competitors in relation to this new, Francis Lawrence-directed entry. To recap, The Avengers opened on May 4, 2012 in 4,349 theaters (still the widest North American opening of all time) in IMAX 3D, regular 3D, and regular 2D, with a 40% 3D share, a number that helps to explain how the $169.2 million record previously held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 could be so bracingly shattered. Earlier this year, Iron Man 3 took the second-highest opening with $174.1 million, with a similar 3D share as The Avengers. Much like Warner Bros. with The Dark Knight films, though, Lionsgate has elected not to dabble with 3D in hopes that the film’s quality will be all the pull needed to get audiences into theaters; it’s a decision that, while certainly forgoing the surcharge on each 3D ticket, retains a degree of integrity on the part of the studio, which isn’t trying to milk consumers for every last penny in their pockets.
Aside from the ethics of 3D, it’s undeniable that Catching Fire will be at an economic disadvantage without it, losing as much as $4 per ticket in some cases. Nevertheless, this franchise presents an unprecedented fanbase that it carries over from the novels, which explains the $152.5 million opening of the first film—still the highest opening weekend ever for a non-sequel. That the first film also showed relatively strong legs suggests casual moviegoers became converts as well, which could also explain why Catching Fire has been in the top five on Fandango’s ticket sales for over a solid month. Moreover, the move from a March to November opening positions this film in a marquee slot, with the weekend more or less to itself, seeing that it’s unlikely any other film goes over $20 million for the weekend. Combined with a Jennifer Lawrence’s recent Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook, the continued emergence of the rest of its young cast, and borderline rave reviews thus far, Catching Fire looks guaranteed to soar past Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’s opening.
That leaves the Marvel machine as the last line of defense. Iron Man 3’s $174.1 million earlier this year reads like a significant number for Catching Fire to hit—at least on an eye test. However, all the film needs is a 13% increase from the first, a figure that’s readily attainable based on inflation and an increased theater count alone. Figure in the new fans of the books, fans of the first film, or even curious moviegoers with few other options who want to see what all the hoopla is about, and suddenly the 35% increase needed to dethrone The Avengers appears well within reach. Such is where what I’m terming “no-3D karma” will come into play: Marvel and Disney are your supervillains, having embraced a networked-franchise mentality that plans three films ahead, deploying the latest “entry” decked out with every technological boost imaginable. As such, there’s no end in sight, no final destination to be reached—just more sequels and more reboots. Marvel isn’t a franchise; it’s an über brand. The Hunger Games films, while certainly examples of big-budget filmmaking, do have a clear end in sight: the conclusion of the original source material. Thus, while I share Adams’s trepidation over such Hollywood co-opting, the real enemy (global branding) is clear. As such, the box-office gods have presented a modest glimmer of hope this weekend: that a franchise with integrity can, at least for the moment, surpass a capitalistic black hole with very little.
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: $207.5 NEW
2. The Best Man Holiday: $15.7 -48%
3. Thor: The Dark World: $15.3 -58%
4. Delivery Man: $9.7 NEW
5. Last Vegas: $5.5 -36%
6. Free Birds: $4.9 -39%
7. Dallas Buyers Club: $4.8 +174%
8. Bad Grandpa: $4.3 -42%
9. Gravity: $3.7 -40%
10. 12 Years a Slave: $3.6 -27%