Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The Hunger Games breaks the franchise drought.

As I noted in my review for the nifty The Hunger Games, all Hollywood — not just the film’s backers at Lionsgate — were keenly hoping that the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s hit novel would eat the box office alive. …

Sun, Mar 25, 2012, 21:27


As I noted in my review for the nifty The Hunger Games, all Hollywood — not just the film’s backers at Lionsgate — were keenly hoping that the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s hit novel would eat the box office alive. There have been far too many failed attempts to launch new franchises in recent years. If things had gone differently, we would currently be anticipating the fourth Eragon film and the third Golden Compass movie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for all the sales of the corresponding books, those flops proved that there are only two J K Rowlings (one of whom is called Stephenie Meyer). Harry Potter is no more. Twilight is about to expire. Somebody, somewhere has to demonstrate that it’s possible to launch a new franchise.

Where do you think you’re going, 21 Jump Street?

The Hunger Games seems to have achieved that feat. It looks as if Gary Ross’s picture has taken about $155 million at the US box office this weekend. Quite a few records have been broken. That’s the highest ever debut for a non-sequel and it’s the best result for a picture opening outside the summer blockbuster season. It is the third-biggest opening of any sort. So, barring catastrophe, Lionsgate will get to adapt the remaining two books in Ms Collins’s trilogy. With staggering cynicism, the studio has already suggested that the final volume — a mere 390 widely-spaced pages — will spawn two films. When the Harry Potter guys split Deathly Hallows (admittedly a huge book) they unleashed a monster.

There are a few obvious reasons for the film’s success. The books were seriously big sellers (even if Suzanne hasn’t quite matched the achievements of either Ms Rowling). The film is actually pretty darn good. And, most importantly, it is the sort of entertainment that crosses demographics. Twilight is hampered by the glass ceiling imposed by the series’ near-exclusive appeal to teenage girls and younger women. Why does Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1, one of the decade’s most successful films, register only 4.7/10 with visitors to the Internet Movie Database? Because teenage boys love to hate it and that demographic votes often on IMDb. The Hunger Games might have a female protagonist, but there’s very little of that drippy hugging, kissing and mooning. People get gutted with knives, blown to smithereens by mines and attacked by killer bees. Cool! (In an aside, expect outraged, conservative parents to start an anti-Hunger Games campaign anytime now.)

A few warning notes should be sounded. As is often the case with the American trades, much of the attention has been focussed on the US figures. The Hunger Games has not performed nearly so well in the rest of the world. In a sense, we are experiencing the exact opposite of what occurred two weeks ago when John Carter opened. That film bombed in the US, but did perfectly well in Russia and China. In fact, it looks as if the Disney “flop” made about $10 million more than The Hunger Games in ROW on its opening. Hang on a moment. We expect a film to make at least 55 percent of its money outside the US. The Hunger Games is lagging behind John Carter. So John Carter is the hit. Right?

Well, not quite. Word of mouth matters. Carter is slipping. The Hunger Games will probably hold up very well in future weeks. Moreover, the US opening is so huge it will compensate for the relatively soft “overseas” figures. But Lionsgate should not sleep too comfortably in their beds. Remember Narnia. The first film in that cycle opened spectacularly well. Subsequent adventures slipped badly at the box office. Fox, who took over from Disney when part two failed in the US, are still maintaining that The Magician’s Nephew is on the way. Time has moved on. The juvenile actors are all now adults. I would urge C S Lewis fans not to hold their breath.

So what does it all mean? Well, you don’t get through many such musings without quoting the most famous of William Goldman’s maxims. Wait for it. Wait for it.


Ah, that feels better.