- "Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" is expected to haul between $42 million and $55 million during its opening weekend.
- Each of the other four films in the Hunger Games franchise debuted with more than $100 million in ticket sales at the domestic box office.
- The prequel to the $3 billion Hunger Games franchise, based on the 2020 novel of the same name by author Suzanne Collins, is a standalone film set some 60 years before Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute.
"Snow lands on top."
It's the mantra of the main character Coriolanus Snow in the upcoming "Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" and the hope of its distributor Lionsgate.
The prequel to the $3 billion Hunger Games franchise, based on the 2020 novel of the same name by author Suzanne Collins, is a standalone film set some 60 years before Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute. It debuts in theaters this weekend.
"Ballad" is headed for a solid opening, likely hauling in between $42 million and $55 million, according to box office analysts, as the first new entry in the Hunger Games saga since 2015.
"It's an interesting position for the Hunger Games prequel because the expectation has suddenly become that it has a chance to open on par with 'The Marvels,' give or take, after the latter film lived down to bearish forecasts," said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
Disney and Marvel Studios' "The Marvels" significantly underperformed expectations when it debuted in theaters earlier this month. The film tallied $46.1 million domestically over its debut weekend, the lowest in the 30-plus-film franchise's history. The film had initially been slated to snag between $75 million and $80 million, but those expectations shrank to $60 million and $65 million just ahead of its opening.
"There has always been a certain magic surrounding the Hunger Games franchise," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. "This latest installment looks to take the goodwill generated by the original films in the series and parlay that into what promises to be solid $50 [million] plus debut for this intriguing and exciting origin story."
The film centers on a young Coriolanus Snow, a man destined to be president of Panem, the fictional country based on the continental United States. It sheds light on what sparked his rise to become the tyrannical ruler seen in later Hunger Games stories.
While box office analysts see a $50 million opening as a positive — given Hollywood's recent writers and actors strikes and a change in consumer moviegoing habits — "Ballad" will open significantly lower than its predecessors. Each of the other four films in the Hunger Games franchise debuted with more than $100 million in ticket sales at the domestic box office.
- "Hunger Games" (2012) — $152.5 million
- "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (2013) — $158 million
- "Hunger Games: The Mockingjay Part One" (2014) — $121.9 million
- "Hunger Games: The Mockingjay Part Two" (2015) — $102.6 million
There is some trepidation from box office analysts on whether "Ballad" will be able to recapture the audiences that came out nearly a decade ago for previous installments.
"We're talking about a prequel that doesn't have the star power its predecessors did with Jennifer Lawrence," Robbins said. "The fan base is a little bit older now, the [young adult] genre is beyond its peak of popularity more than a decade ago."
Prequels are generally challenging to market outside the established core fan base, Robbins said.
"The biggest variable here is what portion of today's young female audience this new Hunger Games story can bring in with an all new cast," he said.
So far, the film has a 61% score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes from 90 reviews, with critics asserting that the outstanding cast and exciting story make the film a worthy return to the Hunger Games universe. Some, however, found the pacing of the film too rushed. The screenplay is quite faithful to Collins' novel, which has more than 500 pages.
The film is also a standalone, with no promise for future installments. Producers of the film franchise have said they do not plan on returning to Panem unless Collins writes another book.
Still, "Ballad" arrives in theaters at a crucial time for Lionsgate — with the company set to split from Starz and on the heels of its recent acquisition of Entertainment One from Hasbro — and for the box office. It opens just head of Disney's animated feature "Wish" and AppleTV+'s "Napoleon," which are due out next week on Thanksgiving.
"This is a table-setting weekend that theaters and studios definitely need after another feast-or-famine fall season impacted by release delays and industry strikes, both of which will continue to be felt through the holiday season," said Robbins.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.