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‘Catching Fire’ Burning Up the Box Office with Nearly $150 Million

But sequel expected to fall short of original for eighth highest domestic opening of all time

Updated estimates now have Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” earning very close to $150 million this weekend, making it the biggest bow for a November opener on record, but that is likely to be its only claim.

The hotly anticipated sequel earned $70.5 million domestically, piling Friday grosses on top of an impressive $25.3 million from Thursday night showings. Its early start had “Catching Fire” ahead of its predecessor by about 28%, but that margin is tightening.

“The Hunger Games” earned $67.3 million its opening night, just 5% behind “Catching Fire’s,” and if the sequel is to beat its predecessor, it’ll only do so by a hair’s width. “Hunger Games” bowed to $152.5 million in March of 2012, the sixth highest opening of all time and a thin margin ahead of “Catching Fire’s” three-day domestic estimate.

Overseas is a different story. “Catching Fire’s” current int’l cume is $64 million and more than doubling its predecessor’s take in several markets including the Mexico, Russia, the U.K. and Germany, where its earning four times as much.

Early exit poll data suggests the audience gender gap from the first “Hunger Games” film is shrinking. Male attendance on Friday jumped 12% from the original to 41% of overall auds, and moviegoers are about equally split between the over-25 and under-25 crowd.

Early talk that “Catching Fire” might give “Iron Man 3’s” bow a run for its money may have officially died out — that would’ve made the film the highest opening of 2013 and the second highest bow on record — but it is nonetheless a very strong start with persuasive critical buzz (89% on Rotten Tomatoes) and aud approval (“A” CinemaScore) that’ll fuel word of mouth going into the Thanksgiving holiday.

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