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Box Office: ‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ on Track for Year’s Best Opening

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” will enjoy the biggest opening of the year, but just how big a launch it receives is a matter of dispute.

Lionsgate, the studio behind the $1.6 billion-grossing franchise, is staking out a broad range, projecting the film will do between $130 million and $150 million when it bows Friday in 4,151 locations in North America. Most analysts are being bolder and predicting the hotly anticipated sequel will pull in $150 million at a minimum, noting that the previous two chapters both eclipsed that mark. Should the film top $160 million, it will be one of the five best opening weekends of all time.

Whatever the final tally, it will trump the $100 million that “Transformers: Age of Extinction” racked up last June — the year’s previous high-water mark.

“This isn’t one of the top-tier YA series, it’s one of the top-tier series in all of filmdom,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations.

Indeed, “The Hunger Games” now breathes rarefied air. It’s a franchise on the level of “The Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” Batman and James Bond. Unlike other blue-chip series, it broke into the pantheon without the benefit of 3D. In the case of “Mockingjay – Part 1,” it will not get an Imax boost, something that its predecessors benefited from when they were released. Those screens are reserved for “Interstellar.”

But analysts think that the lack of premium bells and whistles and their attendant surcharges won’t dent “Mockingjay – Part 1’s” opening.

“You could release ‘The Hunger Games’ in early February and have a hit,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “It doesn’t matter where on the calendar it falls. It’s that strong.”

In addition to its U.S. opening, “Mockingjay – Part 1” will also release day-and-date in 85 international markets. That’s most of the major territories except for China, Japan and India.

“Mockingjay – Part 1” will keep chugging right through its debut weekend and into the Thanksgiving holidays. It could top box office charts for three consecutive weekends, at least until “Exodus: Gods and Kings” storms into theaters on Dec. 12.

In a sign of its expected dominance, no other major studio film will hit theaters this weekend. Among holdovers, “Interstellar” and “Big Hero 6” should be able to withstand Katniss’ arrows, looking to pull in $22 million and $17 million, respectively. Look for last weekend’s champ, “Dumb and Dumber To,” to make roughly $20 million.

“Mockingjay – Part 1” cost approximately $140 million to produce and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last completed roles before his death this year. Francis Lawrence, who oversaw “Catching Fire,” returns to the director’s chair.

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