Lionsgate; Warner Bros.
Lionsgate; Warner Bros.
So, The Hunger Games undoubtedly will be big. It probably will be bigger than Twilight.
But Harry Potter?
Here's why The Hunger Games is unlikely to dethrone the box-office king of film franchises:
1. Family-Friendly Fantasy vs. Dystopian Mayhem: This is a big one. The first Potter film was a bring-the-kids-and-uncles, PG-rated crowd-pleaser. The Hunger Games is a PG-13 tale of teen-vs.-teen slaughter that was seven seconds away from a stiff movie rating in the United Kingdom. All in all, don't expect a lot of minivan sightings at opening-weekend Hunger Games theaters.
2. Source Material: Author Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games book trilogy has reportedly sold 26 million copies—a phenomenal number. The Potter films were spawned from the J.K. Rowling series that sold 15 times that many volumes.
3. High Bar: The first Potter set an opening-weekend mark with a then-record $90 million Friday-Sunday debut. While The Hunger Games is expected to clear that number, and maybe with room to spare, it's not expected to set a new opening-weekend record (although, for what it's worth, it could do just that in the boy wizard's own U.K. home.)
4. Higher Bar: If 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone had sold tickets at 2011 prices ($7.93 instead of yesteryear's $5.65), then, assuming attendance remained the same, the movie would have posted a $126 million debut. That kind of performance is on the upper edge of expectations for The Hunger Games.
5. International Flava: Sorcerer's Stone played to its base, stocking its cast with U.K. stalwarts such as Richard Harris and Alan Rickman. The Hunger Games has Aussie Liam Hemsworth, but largely filled out its character roles with Americans (Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, etc.). The suggestion here is not that Sorcerer's Stone cleaned up because of Maggie Smith; the suggestion here is that names like Smith's do matter to overseas audiences, and that the Jennifer Lawrence-led Hunger Games may leave some money on the table because it stayed true to its U.S. roots—and didn't try to sell the old sci-fi movie trope that we'll all sound vaguely British in the near future.
The Bottom Line: There's only one Harry Potter. There's only one Twilight, for that matter. And there's only one Hunger Games. Comparisons are inexact and unfair. The Hunger Games will heretofore not be judged against anything—until, that is, it opens next weekend.