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Hunger Games: Catching Fire off to a huge box-office start

"Catching Fire"
Lionsgate
"Catching Fire"

The first numbers are in, and Lionsgate is heading into a very good weekend.

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" grossed more than $25 million at the domestic box office on Thursday night—up 28 percent from the Thursday debut of the first film. And the film's international debut was even stronger—$32 million—in most markets more than double that of the first "Hunger Games" international debut.

This puts the second installment in the popular franchise well on its way to grossing as much as $170 million, which would be the biggest opening weekend ever for a 2-D film, and the second-biggest opening weekend ever for any film, including 3-D. Fandango reported that "Catching Fire" is the highest advance-ticket seller of the year, responsible for 92 percent of the tickets sold for this weekend.

(Read more: 'Catching Fire': Burning brighter than 'Hunger Games'?)

"Given the increased star power of Jennifer Lawrence over the last 18 months and an 8 p.m. start time Thursday night in most theaters, it would not be surprising if the film exceeded our $170 million weekend forecast," MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler wrote in a note Friday morning.

This bodes well for the film to far surpass the $700 million Lionsgate brought in for the first "Hunger Games." Where this film should really perform better is overseas, thanks to Oscar-winning Lawrence's star power, and higher awareness of the films and the books they're based on.

Analysts expect "Catching Fire" to bring in as much as $400 million from the overseas box office, which is more than $100 million than the last film.

(Read more: Lionsgate stokes overseas fire for 'Hunger Games' sequel)

The more successful the film, the better it bodes for Lionsgate—it has two more "Hunger Games" films in the works, cleverly splitting the third and final book into two films. And the more successful the "Hunger Games" franchise, the easier it will be for Lionsgate to launch more films in the same genre, like "Divergent," which hits theaters in March.

(Related video: Lionsgate's executive talks Hunger Games' sequel)

There's also potential money to be made from licensing deals around "Hunger Games." Product licensing not only generates additional revenue—traditionally studios take about 10 percent of gross sales, but movie licensing deals also help boost the profile of a film, often acting as free advertising. "Catching Fire" has an eclectic group of deals, from a Subway Siracha sandwich melt (interpreting the "Hunger" in the title loosely).

On the other end of the spectrum there are $8 "Hunger Games" Vosges Haut-Chocolat bars with flavors inspired by the characters and districts. There's also an exclusive partnership with online luxury retiler Net-A-Porter, with high-end clothes and accessories.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin.

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.