Lionsgate pic has third-highest Stateside opening ever with $155 mil

From the get-go, Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games” seemed destined for box office glory, but global audiences were even hungrier than expected, as the pic earned an astonishing $214 million worldwide (No. 1 in virtually every market) and saw the third-highest three-day domestic bow ever.

Overseas, the film opened in 67 day-and-date territories via local distribs, totaling $59.3 million. The pic’s Stateside tally reached $155 million.

“Hunger Games” shattered several other notable benchmarks in North America: It scored the highest nonsummer domestic opening, as well as the all-time biggest debut for a nonsequel. Both records were previously held by “Alice in Wonderland,” with its $116 million launch in March 2010.

What’s more, “Hunger Games” alone earned more than all films combined during the comparable 2011 frame, boosting this weekend’s overall tally up a whopping 78%.

Many bizzers questioned how high the film could reach this weekend, citing early expectations as high as $115 million to $125 million. But with unstoppable all-audience buzz, based on popularity for Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy, coupled with positive reviews and strong word of mouth, “Games” managed to outstrip even the most optimistic pre-weekend tracking predictions.

“We’re now No. 3 among the top domestic openings — the first being Warner Bros. and the third, Lionsgate. That’s just mind-blowing,” enthused Lionsgate marketing topper Tim Palen. “The fact that we didn’t test the film or the trailer is a testament to Jon Feltheimer.

“He has the best gut in the business,” Palen added.

Lionsgate exec VP of distribution David Spitz pointed to the film’s minuscule 25% Friday-to-Saturday drop as a rare achievement, especially given the film’s record-setting $19.7 million midnight take lumped into Friday’s gross. Typically, films with massive pre-release buzz that lead to hefty Thursday midnights, like the “Twilight” franchise, drop 45%-50% from Friday to Saturday.

“That positions us to be in the marketplace for a long time,” Spitz said.

“Hunger Games,” which received an A CinemaScore rating, drew a significant male contingency at 40%. That was likely boosted by its $10.6 million Imax share, since the mega-screen exhib caters mostly to male auds. Interestingly, over-25 auds contributed 56% of the film’s opening.

Palen said “Hunger Games” drew the strongest responses to its TV spots from men of all ages.

Considering the weekend’s “Hunger Games” frenzy, Sony’s “21 Jump Street” held well in its second frame, down only 41% for an estimated $21.3 million, while Universal’s “The Lorax” followed with $13.1 million, off just 42%.

“Jump Street” has cumed a fantastic $71 million domestically. “Lorax,” meanwhile, is still the year’s highest-grossing Stateside release with $177 million — that’s until “Hunger Games” adds a few more daily grosses to its domestic glut.

Limited entry “October Baby,” from IDP/Samuel Goldwyn Films, managed to crack the domestic top 10 with its estimated $1.7 million from 390 locations. Pic, about a young woman in search of her birth mother, tapped into the faith-based demo with a group sales effort meant to drive traffic. “Baby” expands further the weekend of April 13.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Raid: Redemption” bowed at 13 locations for an OK per-screen average of $15,104. In Canada, the film (released via Alliance) took $24,580 from one.

Odds favor ‘Games’

Weeks before its launch, “The Hunger Games” skyrocketed to the top of most tracking service polls as fans of the books showed ravenous interest in the property. The anticipation caused most bizzers to believe the film could open north of $100 million, even become the highest March opening after pre-sales from online ticketing sites spiked.

On the eve of the film’s nationwide release, when first-responders waited in line for midnight screenings, expectations were still lower than the film’s eventual Stateside gross.

But without any true apples-to-apples comparisons — more like comparing Red Delicious to Fuji apples (i.e. “Hunger Games” vs. “Twilight”) — most bizzers stayed cautious in their estimations. The smaller-than-expected drop on Saturday helped “Hunger Games” further beat predictions.

“The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” which debuted to $142 million in 2009, provides one of the best comparisons to “Hunger Games,” as it earned $72 million during its opening Friday — but it dropped 41% the next day. “Games” grossed $68 million on Friday followed by a drop of only 25%.

Lionsgate’s Spitz credited some of the pic’s perf to students on spring break. He said that was one reason for the film’s March release, in addition to positioning “Hunger Games” in the run-up to Easter and summer play time.

“We wanted to launch the film at a time when ‘Hunger Games’ would be all any one would talk about,” Spitz said.

As part of the studio’s marketing campaign, Lionsgate decided not to focus on the games but rather the lead-up to the games. “We focused our message on the fact that this was a reluctant hero,” Palen said.

O’seas B.O. highlights

The film’s overseas highlights include English-speaking territories: Australia contributed $9.7 million, comparable to franchise firsts for “Harry Potter,” “Star Wars: Episode I” and “Transformers.” In the U.K., “Hunger Games” grossed an estimated $7.5 million despite sunny weather.

Russia added $6.5 million to the film’s overseas tally, while Germany and France each contributed just shy of $4 million through Sunday.

Other than “Hunger Games,” Disney’s “John Carter” continued to score double digits with $22.2 million in its third weekend. So far, “Carter” has tallied $172.1 million internationally, boosting its worldwide take to $234.4 million.

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