'Hunger Games' on target to set new box-office record

Teen 'death match' film becomes instant success and draws huge audiences on opening weekend

The Hunger Games was on target last night to break the record for Hollywood's biggest box-office debut.

The Friday total for US ticket sales for Lionsgate's new film puts it on track for the best opening weekend ever. That record is held by Alice in Wonderland, with $116.1m. The big start should translate into an opening weekend of up to $140m in the US alone, according to Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for the box-office tracker Hollywood.com.

First-day revenues for The Hunger Games were behind the record $91.1m for last summer's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. But the new film came within a few million dollars of each of the past three Twilight movies, whose first days ranged from $68.5m to $72.7m.

The Hunger Games stars Jennifer Lawrence as a teen forced to compete in a televised death match in a future North American society where a privileged capital city oppresses the people of 12 outlying worker districts. The film is based on the first book in a best-selling trilogy by author Suzanne Collins; the novels have been translated into 26 languages and are on sale in 38 countries.

The film's producer, Lionsgate, which is working to build an audience among young adults, plans three more films based on the trilogy. It has acquired Summit, the firm that produced the record-breaking Twilight franchise. The anticipated success of the new film has pushed Lionsgate's stock price to a 52-week high, hitting $14.55 at close of trading last week, up 90 per cent this year.

The film has provided lucrative spin-off promotions, with Amazon reporting that Collins is now Amazon Kindle's best-selling author. It is also accompanied by franchised tie-ins for merchandise that include nail polish, knee socks, ear buds and even a Barbie doll.

But not everyone is delighted. As with the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, long-time fans of the novel feel that the film glosses over nuanced elements of the story, with the result that its moral landscape is simplified.

The film reviewer Darren Franich writes: "There is one important aspect that is almost entirely absent from the movie: the darkly funny way in which Collins directly accuses the audience. Basically, in movie form [it] has become a superhero film."

And amid all the success, there is one big loser: Carl Icahn, who sold his one-third stake of Lionsgate – some 44 million shares – for $7 each back in August. Based on the stock's current valuation he's lost out on about $300m.

Fans of the franchise are already turning up in North Carolina, where the film was shot. The state's tourism industry is prepared to cash in, with everything from hotel packages to re-enactments of scenes from the film and lessons in survival skills.

Prominently featured in the movie is the Henry River Mill Village, about 70 miles from Asheville, which was the setting for the home of the three main characters, Katniss, Peeta and Gale. The village is private property, and the local sheriff's department is working with private security guards to keep people away, concerned about liability if someone gets hurt. "I'm getting too many visitors," said the property owner, Wade Shepherd, 83, who hasn't read The Hunger Games. "Day and night, they're driving through, taking pictures, getting out and walking. I'm just bombarded with people."

The film cost more than $60m to make and employed about 5,000 people, making it the largest film made in the state. Other famous movies filmed there include Dirty Dancing, The Last of the Mohicans and Bull Durham.

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