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Expectation Games for ‘The Hunger Games’

The Hunger Gamesis already breaking records—the numbers are in and the film scored the biggest midnight opening ever for a non-sequel: $19.7 million. This puts the Lionsgate film, based on a hit young adult book series, well on its way to a gross north of $120 million opening weekend. That would be the biggest March opening weekend ever. And it would make the film a massive financial success for Lionsgate—it cost just $80 million to produce.

Lionsgate shareshave climbed on growing buzz for the film – the stock is up nearly 75 percent so far this year. Wall Street sees billion dollar potential in The Hunger Games franchise—the studio has three more movies in the works.

The Hunger Games
Source: Thehungergamesmovie.com
The Hunger Games

But now Wall Street is playing an expectations game—investors doing some profit taking, and the stock dropping after Evercore Partners downgraded the stock to “market perform” Thursday morning.

Nearly thirty percent of the stock’s float is sold short. There’s no question that the film will be a financial success if it grosses $80 million the US box office this weekend, but since expectations have been so built up, it could be considered a disappointment if it does less than $100 million.

Based on those midnight numbers, Lionsgate may not have to worry about disappointing Wall Street. And of course the studio isn’t the only one to benefit from a huge hit.

Imax has already started to cash in – the theater chain sold $1.3 million worth of tickets just for midnight screenings. That number doesn’t include 3 am showings—yes fans showed up at 3 am. That makes ‘Hunger Games’ IMAX’s biggest movie ever other than films in the Harry Potter franchise. And of course the regular theater chains like Regal and Cinemark will benefit as well, both from ticket sales and the concession bonanza that comes from the teens and tweens who are right in ‘Hunger Games’ sweet spot.

Publisher Scholastic has benefited from a spike in sales ahead of the film’s release. And even Hot Topic has seen a boost—it reported that it’s sold out of some of its Hunger Games merchandise. There isn’t even much merchandise for the film—most licensing activity comes after the first film in a franchise, once retailers have a better sense of demand. But after this kind of opening retailers are sure to scramble for more Hunger Games loot, and Hot Topic is one which will certainly benefit.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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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.