“The Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is nearing the $100 million mark worldwide after three days of release.
Those ticket sales, including $44 million in North America and $54.5 million internationally, were enough to top the box office. But they didn’t come close to recapturing the glory of the original “Hunger Games” franchise, which launched Jennifer Lawerence to stardom and collectively grossed $3 billion globally. The first four installments, released between 2012 and 2015, each generated at least $100 million domestically and $200 million (or up to $300 million, in the case of 2013’s “Catching Fire”) globally in their respective opening weekends.
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“We were a little lighter [than projections] domestically and a little over [projections] internationally, so we’re thrilled with the result,” says Adam Fogelson, vice chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. “It’ll be a great business result for the studio.”
Analysts agree “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is well positioned, financially speaking, in its theatrical run. It cost $100 million to produce, more than the first “Hunger Games,” but substantially less than the three sequels (with the final 2015 adventure costing $160 million).
“Prequels never do as well as direct sequels,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “It’s not going to be a massive hit for Lionsgate, but it’ll be a moderate one.”
So what does all of this mean for “The Hunger Games” series? “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” will likely turn a profit for Lionsgate, which licenses its titles to international distributors to offset some of the film’s cost. However, these inaugural receipts don’t signal a resounding interest in Panem… at least, not enough to entirely reboot the property without Katniss Everdeen and perennial internet boyfriend Peeta Mellark.
Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth lead an entirely new cast and take the stage in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which is based on a 2020 novel by author Suzanne Collins and set decades before Katniss Everdeen bravely volunteers as tribute. The story centers on a young Coriolanus Snow, who later becomes the tyrannical leader of Panem, as well as District 12 tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, whom he mentors in the 10th annual Hunger Games. Reviews were mixed (it has 60% on Rotten Tomatoes), though audiences appear to be more enthusiastic than critics.
“Any studio that spends $100 million on a prequel expects a trilogy,” Bock says. “They weren’t hoping to make a one-off.”
Whether the studio returns to District 12 (or beyond) will depend on the movie’s staying power during Thanksgiving, as well as the turnout at the international box office. The original films were equally popular in the U.S. and overseas, but the prequel is off to a slightly stronger start in foreign territories. Outside of North America, key markets were the U.K. with $6.7 million, Germany with $4.8 million, China with $4.5 million, France with $4.1 million and Mexico with $3.7 million. China, once a very important market for Hollywood films, has been hostile to non-local language titles. Yet the original “Hunger Games” movies weren’t that big in China in the first place, with each earning around $20 million in the country.
As for competition, Lionsgate’s Fogelson expects the film to remain a draw among families over Thanksgiving weekend and into December. At one point, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” would have jostled with Disney’s superhero sequel “The Marvels” during the busy holiday stretch. But the newest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has completely misfired, with ticket sales cratering by 79% in its second weekend of release. It’ll be lucky to hit $100 million domestically by the end of its theatrical run.
“Historically, the Thanksgiving corridor tends to work nicely for animated films and PG-13 live-action films,” Fogelson says. “We are the only PG-13 live-action film with momentum heading into a very significant box office weekend.”
Though “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” has been positioned as a standalone film in “The Hunger Games” universe, Fogelson teases that moviegoers may not have seen the last of Panem.
“The film opened an endless series of possibilities that Suzanne can go, and that [Lionsgate] can go with her,” he says.