Seldom has a film sequel's title sounded so prescient.
Catching Fire is just the second installment of The Hunger Games franchise and doesn't open wide until this weekend, yet Katniss Everdeen and her cohorts from Suzanne Collins' sci-fi novels already are being enshrined on the movie industry's version of Mount Rushmore.
"James Bond, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga — you can add The Hunger Games to the crown-jewel franchises and brands of the movie world," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for the box office tracking firm Rentrak.
He and other analysts believe Fire has the potential to eclipse 2012's The Hunger Games, which took in nearly $700 million worldwide. "The appetite is even stronger," says Dergarabedian.
Among the reasons why Fire could burn even brighter than its predecessor:
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, from left, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.'(Photo: Murray Close, Lionsgate)
• A bigger bandwagon: Collins' best-selling novels, where citizens are forced to battle in annual, televised gladiator games, came with a rabid built-in audience. And the critical and financial success of the 2012 film only added to the still-expanding audience.
"When things catch on, people want to join in and take a look," says Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence.
The first film received an 84% positive critical rating on RottenTomatoes.com, and Fire is hovering at 94% so far.
"This has become its own phenomenon," says the director.
Jennifer Lawrence returns as heroine Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.'(Photo: Murray Close, Lionsgate)
• The Jennifer Lawrence effect. Any doubt that the actress was the right choice to play Katniss (there was significant fan outcry after her casting) has dissipated. She has proven to be a franchise rock with immense likability, box-office muscle and acting chops.
Lawrence accepted the best-actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook in February before joining cast members on the Catching Fire set. "Two days later she was back in the mud of Hawaii shooting," says director Francis Lawrence.