“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” began its domestic box office sprint with $5.75 million in Thursday preview showings. That’s well below, understandably, the $16 million earned via preview showings of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II” in November of 2015. However, it’s on par with the first two “Divergent” films earned in their respective Thursday preview showings, $4.9 million in 2014 and $4.1 million in 2015. Both Shailene Woodley-starring sci-fi fantasies opened above $50 million in their respective opening weekends. That’s the hope for this Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth-starring prequel to the blockbuster Jennifer Lawrence-starring “Hunger Games” quadrilogy.
The film deals with the backstory of how eventual President Snow (played by Tom Blyth) tried to follow the side of righteousness amid an authoritarian regime that had smashed the hopes of his once powerful family. Snow finds himself as a mentor to District 12 contestant Lucy Grey (Rachel Zegler) who catches his eye due to, well, being a rousingly rebellious young spitfire who also looks – and sings – like Rachel Zegler. No spoilers, but the film very much plays into the “handsome anti-hero and the young woman who maybe can save him” while very much acknowledging the ickier subtexts of that popular trope.
Meanwhile, Lionsgate is banking on generational nostalgia among young adults who grew up on the original four-film series as well as its relative rarity as a grimdark YA-targeted political dystopian action drama in the current theatrical landscape. However, this film lacks several “once was special” attributes that helped make “The Hunger Games” into a towering blockbuster.
First, that first Jennifer Lawrence-starring flick was implicitly sold as an anti-“Twilight,” with the butt-kicking and defiantly rebellious Katniss Everdeen held up as (fairly or not) an antidote to Bella Swann from the romantically focused “Twilight Saga.” Second, that 2012 blockbuster carried with it hope that A) Hollywood would finally realize that big-budget action fantasy franchises for/about women could pull top-tier box office earnings and B) audiences would still embrace a new-to-cinema franchise targeted not at nostalgic adults but present-tense kids.
“The Hunger Games” remains the last live-action, new-to-cinema theatrical franchise to spawn multiple $600 million-plus installments. The moviegoing audience has changed from one that would flock to a new “Hunger Games” series to one that may flock to a relaunch of an established “Hunger Games” IP.
Quick math, if “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” — which also co-stars Viola Davis, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera and Peter Dinklage, legs out from this Thursday gross like the last two “Hunger Games” sequels, it’ll end the weekend just above or below $36 million. However, if it’s a little less frontloaded, like those “Divergent” films, well, a 10% Thursday-to-weekend split would give it a $57.5 million Fri-Sun launch. That’s a lot of wiggle room, so we’ll know more in 24 hours.
To its credit, Lionsgate spent closer to the $90 million spent on the first Katniss Everdeen flick than the $160 million-budgeted finale. More importantly, and quite correctly, the film hasn’t been sold as the start of a new franchise or a new “Hunger Games”-centric prequel trilogy. It’s based on one book by original author Suzanne Collins, which is thus just one movie. If it performs well commercially and audiences seem to enjoy it, Lionsgate will surely consider making more. But for now, it’s merely its own singular thing and not intended to launch a new generation of “Hunger Games” movies.
Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls Band Together” earned $1.3 million in Thursday preview showings. The film is the third in the initially theatrical animated franchise. However, “Trolls: World Tour” was scheduled to open theatrically in April of 2020 and Universal turned it into the first PVOD title amid COVID lockdowns, playing the title in whatever theaters were open to show it while offering it at home for $20.
This installment in the Anna Kendrick/Justin Timberlake musical comedy is expected to earn around $25 million over the weekend. That’s far from the first “Trolls” $46 million opening in late 2016, but such a repeat run was never in the cards. An over/under $25 million launch isn’t bad for an under-$100 million toon with a strong potential to leg out over the next several weeks which has already earned $67 million overseas.
Meanwhile, Sony’s “Thanksgiving” earned $1 million via Thursday previews. The long-gestating seasonal slasher flick, inspired by a fake trailer that played during the 2007 double-feature throwback “Grindhouse,” has received shockingly strong reviews (86% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) heading into the weekend.
TriStar Pictures and Spyglass Media Group are hoping that the positive buzz can push the Eli Roth-directed horror flick, starring Addison Rae and Patrick Dempsey, to an opening closer to $15 million than $10 million. However, especially with at least another holiday-infused week of post-debut legs, a $10 million launch would be just fine for the $15 million programmer.
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