Lionsgate pic a runaway hit at the box office

“The Hunger Games” is catching fire at the domestic box office, with early Friday estimates putting the Lionsgate pic on track for a whopping three-day opening north of $140 million, becoming one of the top 10 best Stateside openings of all-time.

Based on the popular young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” stormed out of the gate Thursday night, earning an impressive $19.7 million in midnight runs, with some auds staying up into the wee hours for a 3 a.m. screening. Factoring in the $19.7 million in late-night bows, “Games” should gross nearly $70 million Friday from 4,137 locations.

Pic also marks the highest-grossing film ever for Lionsgate. Founded in 1997, the company’s previous top B.O. performer was Michael Moore’s political doc “Fahrenheit 911,” which earned a total of $119 million.

Analysts have long-predicted a “Hunger Games” B.O. killing, with observers projecting the film would open in the $125 million range. But today’s overperformance suggests it could have a wider appeal than the femme-skewed “Twilight” pics, whose original pic debuted at $69 million domestically while the franchise’s highest opening weekend gross was $141 million (“New Moon”).

“It’s all Suzanne Collins,” one Lionsgate exec beams. “Anybody reads that book, a young girl or young guy, everyone responds overwhelmingly positive to the material. It’s a fantastic story.”

What’s even more impressive, “The Hunger Games” enters the top 10 best Stateside openings of all-time — and is the only pic that’s a non-sequel. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2″ ($169 million) “The Dark Knight” ($158 million) and “Spider-Man 3″ ($151 million) currently make up the top three highest U.S. openings ever.

Rounding out Friday’s top three domestically are last week’s B.O. champ “21 Jump Street” and U’s “The Lorax.” Sony’s R-rated “Jump Street,” starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, is down 60% week-to-week but should see an uptick in Saturday traffic, placing the action-comedy in the $16 million range for the weekend.

Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” will also get a bump in Saturday auds, with B.O. observors predicting a $13 million to $14 million gross for the 3D pic.

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