Post-‘Hunger,’ Hollywood hankers for next YA phenom

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Box Office Top 20: Final ‘Hunger Games’ movie opens on top.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” the final film in the highly successful franchise, easily topped the box office in its first weekend in theaters, grossing $102.7 million. Like Twilight and Harry Potter, the closing chapter of The Hunger Games was bifurcated by distributor Lionsgate, hoping for a similar box-office bonanza.Many will question if Lions Gate was foolish to split the final book into two films, but given the moderate cost associated with the productions, profitability came quickly. That’s slightly above the studio-reported estimates from Sunday but lags behind the figures set by the previous three films, which peaked with the $158.1 million debut of “Catching Fire” in 2013.

There’s no doubt that two Mockingjays will bring in more than one would have, but the trick is not working as well as with other young-adult franchises. Its opening-weekend performance was both impressive and disappointing, as the film handily beat its competitors while falling short of its predecessors’ success (Part 1 opened at nearly $122 million in 2014). Holdovers “Spectre,” the James Bond film, and “The Peanuts Movie” took the second- and third-place spots with $15 million and $13.2 million, respectively. More disappointing for Lionsgate is that Part 2 – unlike Harry Potter and Twilight – has failed to rally audiences for the big finale, debuting this weekend at a series low of $101m.

The Seth Rogen holiday comedy “The Night Before” debuted with $9.9 million, while the Julia Roberts thriller “The Secret in Their Eyes” opened with $6.7 million. The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Rentrak: Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC. In time, it’s possible — albeit not overwhelmingly likely — that there may be more movies as well: Lionsgate, the studio behind the massively successful films, has said that it is investigating prequel or sequel opportunities. Audiences seem to prefer the neatly corralled sadism of stories structured around the games themselves, rather than the dour, militaristic trudge to Katniss Everdeen’s happily-ever-after. (Whether that confounds or confirms the intention of Suzanne Collins’s original novels, I’ll leave you to decide.) In any case, Part 2’s marketing campaign, unveiling a scarlet-suited Jennifer Lawrence, failed to give audiences much that was new and compelling.

For its part, the studio was put in the odd position of almost having to defend a debut that ranks among the largest in movie history. “It’s a phenomenal opening and we launched these movies at this time consciously knowing there’d be a lucrative long run way through the holidays,” said David Spitz, Lionsgate’s domestic distribution chief. Mitigating that is the fact that openings for the top 10 territories have all dropped since Part 1, apart from Germany (where the world premiere took place). Initial efforts to adapt the books into big-budget movies were met with skepticism: The story’s unrelentingly bleak outlook and its physically and emotionally brutal depictions of violence committed both against and by children made the story a tough sell. The Chinese result – $16.4m against Part 1’s $19.8m – is another blow, as that was the one territory able to cushion a disappointing American showing.

With a commitment from theaters to keep Mockingjay: Part 2 in theaters into early January 2016, those earnings will continue to balloon up and eventually so will the earnings. Mockingjay – Part 2 doesn’t have much competition in the tentpole stakes until The Force Awakens lands on 18 December; presumably playing more to millennials than Spectre, it may still pull in strays keen to see the conclusion of the Katniss saga. That’s also not even counting the film’s international earnings which so far have been right on estimates and coming closer to Part 1’s earnings than ones Stateside. But it looks as though it will wind up somewhere between the first Hunger Games’ $694.4m and Part 1’s $755.4m, leaving the franchise without a $1bn grosser. With the “Harry Potter” movie series, for example, the final installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” had the best opening weekend gross of the entire series. “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” the final “Twilight” film, also did very well, almost matching the previously most successful installment.

It’s the perfect blockbuster for the millennial generation as it comes of age — an all-purpose metaphor for life as a young person in the post-recession era. The first book in Collins’s trilogy hit stores on September 14, 2008, just as the financial crisis was in the process of unfolding; Lehman Brothers would file for bankruptcy the very next day. But actually, it’s in extremely rude health a month into its rollout: $677.8m worldwide and still with an outside chance of matching Skyfall’s $1.1bn.

The presidential election that would put Barack Obama in the White House was just six weeks away, and the worst economic turndown since the Great Depression was about to take its toll. Even if the Chinese haven’t taken to 007 as passionately as Sony might’ve hoped, Spectre’s classicist approach – not only joining the dots between the Daniel Craig films, but self-referentially putting Bond on a kind of greatest-hits carousel of past escapades – seems to have shored up Bond’s appeal in places where he’s already a household name. Even if this film doesn’t break $500 million (which is unlikely, but stay with me), then you’ve turned $300 million into at the very least $1.2 billion.

Only the US – some $70m short of Skyfall at the same third-weekend point – is seriously withholding, though it could experience a bounce on the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. And I’m not saying Lions Gate will never have another hit, it’s just for now they have the Divergent series (which does half this amount of business) and a series of smaller sequels and re-boots in the pipeline. Let’s also be cognizant here that the actual Mockingjay book is nearly 400 pages, so splitting it into two parts is really doing the audience a favor. Those districts are forced to work tirelessly in what are often poverty-level conditions by rulers in the Capitol, where wealthy and powerful residents live in extreme luxury. Remember Warner Bros. caught the same grief when it split The Hobbit into three separate films, but after the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, who could blame them?

Directly Yule-themed works – slightly old-fashioned notion that they are – tend to avoid opening over the holiday period itself, to avoid whatever blockbuster may be on the prowl then. The trilogy follows Katniss Everdeen (played in the films by Jennifer Lawrence, in a role that made her a megastar) as she’s plucked from her grim life in District 12 and whisked away to the Capitol to participate in the Games, finds herself caught in a fraught love triangle, and eventually becomes the symbol of a secret resistance movement as it fights against the system. Lions Gate has banked enough profits off these Hunger Games films to solidify its coffers for a while, especially considering it doesn’t usually make expensive films in the first place. Falling into the foul-mouthed, cynical-but-sweet camp of Christmas entertainment, it’s opened at $10.1m in the US and sixth place globally; in the same range as Bad Santa ($12.2m) and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas ($12.9m).

But the particular combination of story elements, at once familiar and deeply twisted, give the series a powerful contemporary resonance, refracting and reflecting the interlocking anxieties of the present-day US into an unusually potent sci-fi mélange. Clearly, an R-rating is a barrier not only to the kinds of debuts enjoyed by family fodder like How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($55.1m) or The Polar Express ($23.3m), but also by more adult-intended but mainstream jams like Elf and Four Christmases (both $31.1m). 2003’s Elf is an interesting case study: the third highest grossing Christmas film ever, ignoring inflation, thanks to bolstering buffoon du jour Will Ferrell with a superb high concept (Santa’s helper learns he’s actually human).

The ghoulish televised death match at the heart of the story owes more than a little to the reality show competitions — from Survivor to The Voice — that dominate network television programming today. Mockingjay and Spectre dominating the top of the global chart while late summer’s crop of big-hitters fade allowed a host of local hits to register this week.

Meanwhile, the abject poverty of the outer districts and their subjugation by the spectacularly wealthy elites of the Capitol recall both libertarian concerns about the power and privilege of an overreaching central government and liberal concerns about economic inequality. In terms of new entries, yet another retro, 90s-set romance, Our Times, took $12m in China and other territories for global fourth spot; directed by Frankie Chen, it’s already Taiwan’s top domestic hit of 2015. She’s earnest and self-assured, devoted and self-sacrificing, an expert bow hunter who quietly shoulders much of the burden of taking care of her family. Korean crime drama Inside Men, No 5 on Rentrak’s chart, set a local record for R-rated releases with $11.4m over its four-day debut – unsurprising with megastar Lee Byung-hun (I Saw the Devil; Terminator Genisys) at the head of its tale of political corruption running right to the, oh yes, top.

In at No 9 was Universal’s local-language production Spanish Affair 2, hoping to match the $77.5m run for last year’s original that made it the second most successful domestic film behind JA Bayona’s The Impossible. She’s also skeptical and self-reliant, decent and kind but rarely trusting, intensely wary of any overarching ideology and keen to the ways that authority figures of all stripes — in the media, the government, elite society, or even alternative centers of power — want to exploit her for their own purposes. Riffing on the same kind of regional differences that fired up France’s Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis in 2008, the sequel shifts its attention to Catalonia.

The first is firmly on an “origins” tip, with Daniel Radcliffe as a not-so-disfigured Igor recounting the start of his association with James McAvoy’s body-part-pick’n’mixing doctor. But a pawn is just what she is to the rebels she’s now aligned with. “You’re very valuable to us,” the rebel leader, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) says to Katniss as she asks her to continue making propaganda films for the cause.

Going a touch wider – about 40 markets – is The Good Dinosaur, about a wide-eyed Apatosaurus living in an alternative timeline where the giant reptiles never went extinct. Bollywood’s main offering, romantic drama Tamasha, sees rising star Deepika Padukone opposite her former real-life partner Ranbir Kapoor in a tale of a convention-bucking dreamer pictured at three points in his life.

It probably won’t pitch into the spate of box-office records India has seen tumble in the second half of 2015, but it does apparently feature the country’s longest ever kissing scene. It will stay with us because it offers hope that those who make it through that bleakness can escape, and make something better out of whatever comes next.

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