Catching Fire isn't just expected to top the weekend box office, it's expected to top the opening weekend posted by The Hunger Games. So, yes, Catching Fire is expected to be very, very, very big.
If the projections are on target, the first sequel in the Jennifer Lawrence-led Hunger Games franchise, playing in theaters Thursday night in advance of Friday's official debut, will take in more than $160 million through Sunday, and establish itself as one of Hollywood's top three or four biggest openers ever.
Here's how and why it could make history:
1. It's a Sequel That's Not Just Any Sequel: On one hand, The Hunger Games will be the hardest box-office act to follow ever. In its first three days, the 2012 film grossed $152.5 million, still the all-time biggest debut for a non-sequel, and currently the sixth-biggest debut of all-time. On the other hand, The Hunger Games will be the best box-office act to follow ever. "The first Hunger Games film was such a worldwide smash that it served as an effective vehicle to get fans amped up to a fever pitch in anticipation of Catching Fire," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak, said via email. And don't forget what's powering all of the Hunger Games movies: author Suzanne Collins' mega-selling, young-adult dystopian sci-fi book series.
2. The Jennifer Lawrence Factor: Since the first Hunger Games, the 23-year-old star has won the Best Actress Oscar (for Silver Linings Playbook), and owned talk-show segments. She's a kick, and, career-wise, she's hot. "Lawrence has tremendous credibility…and is able to bounce back and forth effortlessly between films like The Hunger Games, and indie successes like Silver Linings Playbook and the upcoming American Hustle," Dergarabedian said.
3. The Numbers Are Ever in Catching Fire's Favor: Once again, it's not easy to top The Hunger Games, which opened on a whopping 4,137 screens domestically, but Catching Fire is going to do it. The new movie, costarring Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, is set to open in 4,163 theaters. Also, the average ticket price is a tick higher now than it was when The Hunger Games debuted.
4. The Franchise Has Caught Fire Overseas: The international box office is where Catching Fire is really expected to put distance between itself and its predecessor. Last weekend, the sequel made its worldwide debut in Brazil, where it grossed $6.3 million in its opening frame, more than double what The Hunger Games took in there in 2012. According to TheWrap.com, Catching Fire is being pegged for an overall international haul of $500 million, significantly up from The Hunger Games' $283 million.
5. The Time Is Right for Feasting: The Hunger Games opened in the hit-and-miss spring; Catching Fire arrives in the hot holiday season, right before many school-age tweens and teens go on Thanksgiving break. Competition-wise, it doesn't have much this weekend. Thor: The Dark World is going on three weeks old, and the new Vince Vaughn comedy Delivery Man, opening Friday, is expected to be in a race for second, not first, versus the Thor sequel and Best Man Holiday, another holdover. On Thursday, Fandango said Catching Fire was accounting for fully 85 percent of its advance ticket sales. (Fandango and E! News are both owned by Comcast.)