Will ‘Hunger Games’ Break Box Office Records?

Arguably the most popular book series since Twilight, the Hunger Games trilogy looks as though it will be box office gold for Lionsgate (NYSE:LGF), the lucky film studio that scored the rights to adapt Suzanne Collins’s novels for the big screen.

Tracking services are giving conservative estimates of $82 million to $115 million for the film’s 3-day opening, but data shared with studio insiders suggests the film could rake in as much as $140 million by the end of its first weekend, and that’s just in the U.S. For comparison, the first Twilight film debuted to $69.6 million.

In fact, tracking data released earlier this week boasted levels usually reserved for marquee sequels, like The Dark Knight, the second film in the new Batman saga and one of the highest grossing films to date.

But while rival studios and other box-office observers believe Hunger Games could gross $130 million to $140 million, they caution that such numbers can be hard to attain outside of summer, when record breakers like The Dark Knight and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 were released.

As a young-adult series, it’s no wonder Hunger Games is being compared to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, but readers know the similarities end there. Hunger Games is about a dystopic America, a violent and dangerous world full of poverty, controlled by a fascist regime that forces children to kill children in an annual battle royal meant to remind the proletariat of the horrors of war.

While the Twilight books, and thus the films, drew a largely female audience with their chaste romance and near-perfect leading men, the appeal of Hunger Games is decidedly more broad, and the film is drawing serious interest among men.

A week ago, 20 percent of men over the age of 25 listed the film as their first choice among movies in release or opening this weekend. That number shot up to 36 percent this week. Men under the age of 25 listing the film as their first choice shot from 20 percent up to 35 percent.

The film is already doing strong pre-sale business, with over 1,200 midnight showings already sold out as early as Monday, according to online-ticketing service Fandango. With high-drama action sequences, the film will also be playing in IMAX (NASDAQ:IMAX) theaters, which demand a premium on normal ticket prices. IMAX theaters earlier this week sold out 150 midnight screenings, forcing them to add 3 a.m. runs.

According to IMDb.com, in the 30 days leading up to the movie’s release, page views were double those for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I, the fourth and most recent Twilight film, which debuted to $138.1 million in November. Page views were 78 percent higher than for the June release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, the final installment in the Harry Potter franchise, which raked in $169.2 million in its opening weekend and went on to top $1 billion in global ticket sales.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Knapp at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com