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Box Office: ‘Hunger Games’ Tops Post-Thanksgiving Dead Zone With $21.6 Million

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” held onto its box office crown for a third straight week, picking up $21.6 million, but it wasn’t much of a triumph for the hit sequel.

Ticket sales for the weekend were anemic, falling 19% from the previous year as studios decided to hold their fire for the Christmas holiday instead of introducing any major new releases. Twentieth Century Fox toyed with counterprogramming by releasing  “The Pyramid” in 589 theaters, but the found-footage horror film eked out only $1.3 million.

After three weeks, “Mockingjay – Part 1” has earned $257.7 million domestically.

The weekend after Thanksgiving is traditionally a glacial one for the movie business, and this one was slow even by those low standards. Year to date, the box office is roughly 4.6% behind 2013, so Hollywood needs upcoming releases such as “Exodus: Gods & Kings,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” and “Top Five” to deliver in a big way if it wants to make up lost ground.

“This was not the kind of box office weekend you write home about,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “We really need some help and we need it fast.”

Without much in the way of competition, DreamWorks Animation’s “Penguins of Madagascar” secured second place on the chart, picking up $11.1 million and driving its total to $49.6 million. Given its high $135 million production cost, the animated spinoff of the “Madagascar” franchise is still something of a disappointment.

In third place, “Horrible Bosses 2” dropped a slender 44% to earn $8.6 million, bringing its total to $36.1 million after two weeks. Disney’s “Big Hero 6” has emerged as one of the fall’s biggest hits, nabbing $8.1 million in its fourth week. It has made $177.5 million Stateside since debuting at the beginning of November.

Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” has also shown impressive legs, picking up $8 million and pushing its domestic total to $158.7 million. The space adventure has performed better internationally than it has in the U.S., earning more than 70% of its revenue overseas.

In the specialty realm, Fox Searchlight’s “Wild,” which is receiving strong buzz for Reese Witherspoon, earned $630,000 from 21 theaters for a per-screen average of $30,000. The story of an emotionally damaged woman who goes on a grueling walkabout is appealing to people who might not otherwise go to an arthouse film but are drawn to the uplifting message and author Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir.

“It connects with a lot of people because Reese Witherspoon is playing a real person on a real journey with real things happening to her that are similar to what people face in real life,” said Frank Rodriguez, Fox Searchlight’s distribution chief.

“Wild” will expand to roughly seven cities and should be in 90 to 100 theaters by next weekend. It will hit approximately 800 theaters by Christmas, Rodriguez said.

Among other Oscar contenders, “Whiplash” earned $351,474 on 175 screens, and has so far made $4.4 million, while “Foxcatcher” snared $574,727 on 75 screens, bringing its take to $2.8 million.

In its second week of release, “The Imitation Game” made $401,570, bringing its total to almost $1 million. It had the weekend’s highest per-screen average with $50,196 and the second best second weekend of the year based on per-screen average. The Weinstein Company is releasing the biopic about code breaker Alan Turing, and distribution chief Erik Lomis reports that the audience is getting younger, with 40% under the age of 35 as opposed to 32% the previous weekend.

“We feel like the picture is poised to break out,” he said. “But we’re going to go slow and handle it very deliberately.”

It will expand to between 30 and 35 theaters and be in six markets next weekend.

“The Theory of Everything,” another prime candidate for best picture, brought in $2.7 million, pushing its total to $13.6 million. In short, it was a good weekend to back a film about a tortured genius.

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