Box Office: ‘Hunger Games’ Flies High With $16 Million on Thursday

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” is flying high in its first U.S. showings with $16 million in Thursday night previews — just not as high as the previous three films.

“Catching Fire” brought in $25.2 million from Thursday night screenings compared to $17 million for “Mockingjay — Part 1.” The first “Hunger Games” reeled in $19.7 million from midnight shows in March 2012.

The early U.S. grosses lifted “Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” to $43 million worldwide. It is in first place in 66 of 68 markets with 19 more territories, including China and Mexico, opening Friday. This is the largest global launch of 2015 and Lionsgate’s biggest release to date.

Recent tracking suggests that “Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” will launch to $120 million to $125 million at 4,175 North American locations. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Julianne Moore all return for the fateful finale, directed by Francis Lawrence.

“Mockingjay — Part 2” will likely be the year’s fourth-biggest domestic opening, behind “Jurassic World” ($208.8 million), “Avengers: Age of Ultron” ($191.3 million) and “Furious 7” ($147.2 million) — a sign of the impressive array of global blockbusters that have hit theaters in recent months. “Minions” is the fifth-largest U.S. launch of 2015 with $115.7 million.

The three previous “Hunger Games” films have set a high bar with $2.3 billion in worldwide grosses. “Mockingjay — Part 1” opened to $121.9 million in the U.S. below the first film’s $152.5 million launch and the second picture’s $158.1 million kickoff.

Critics have found “Mockingjay 2” to be a worthy sendoff for the franchise, earning it a 72% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sony’s Christmas comedy “The Night Before” grossed a modest $550,000 from 2,410 locations during Thursday night previews that began at 7 p.m. That portends an opening weekend in the $8 million to $10 million range for “Night,” starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie.

The pre-Thanksgiving weekend will also see the debut of STX’s crime thriller “Secret in Their Eyes” at 2,392 sites. The film launched softly with $170,000 at 1,470 locations on Thursday. Despite the star power of Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman, “Eyes” is expected to finish under $10 million.

The third weekends of Sony’s “Spectre” and Fox’s “The Peanuts Movie,” set to score in the mid teens, are also in the mix for runner-up.

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