The Hunger Games: Will teen film break box office record?

Tom Brook of the BBC's Talking Movies takes a look at the high hopes for The Hunger Games

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The Hunger Games, the Hollywood film in which teenagers fight to the death on live TV, opens this weekend amid high expectations that it will break box office records.

After the news earlier this week that Disney's John Carter could be one of the biggest flops in cinema history, The Hunger Games arrives this weekend on a tsunami of hype and advance ticket sales.

The film is based on the young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, the first in a trilogy published by Scholastic that has sold 30 million copies worldwide.

Directed by Gary Ross, the big-screen adaptation stars Jennifer Lawrence, whose performance in Winter's Bone was nominated for an Oscar last year.

Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games. Photo credit: Murray Close Stanley Tucci plays sinister TV host Caesar Flickerman

Industry watchers are predicting The Hunger Games could exceed the $116m (£73m) made by Alice in Wonderland to become the biggest March opener of all time in the US.

According to trade paper The Hollywood Reporter, rival studios and other box office observers believe The Hunger Games could potentially gross $130-$140m.

That would put it on a par with two films in the Twilight franchise, 2009's New Moon, which opened with $142.8m and the recent Breaking Dawn - Part 1's $138.1m.

TOP US OPENING WEEKENDS

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - $169.2m
  • The Dark Knight - $158.4m
  • Spider-Man 3 - $151.1m
  • The Twilight Saga: New Moon - $142.8m
  • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 $138.1m

Among those watching the box office figures most closely will be the film's distributor, Lionsgate.

"While you never want to jinx anything, I think it's going to be an exceptional opening," Lionsgate's UK chief executive Zygi Kamasa tells the BBC in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

"I also think it's a movie that's going to play and play, as people realise it's not just a film for young teenagers."

Hollywood.com box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian says that because The Hunger Games is a first instalment there is no precedent for what the film could do.

"This is one of those movies that because of that appeal to virtually every kind of audience, it could exceed even our strongest expectations this weekend," he told the Associated Press.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Photo credit: Murray Close The story is set in a dystopian society ruled by the Capitol

The first Twilight film in 2008 made $70m (£44.3m) on its opening weekend.

Like Stephenie Meyer's vampire and werewolves saga, Hunger Games books have been a teen publishing phenomenon. A glowing endorsement from Meyer even appears on the back cover of the first novel.

Much of the pre-movie hype has focused on asking whether Hunger Games is the "new Twilight", or even Harry Potter, although its roots more clearly trace back to dystopian science fiction like Logan's Run and Rollerball.

"We haven't been making that Twilight comparison," points out Lionsgate's Kamasa.

"The similarities end with the fact that they are initially books aimed at a young adult audience. If you look on the blogs and websites, all the Hunger Games fans are getting upset with the comparison."

While Twilight's success was largely driven by female fans, The Hunger Games appears to have strong interest from both sexes.

"It is an action and suspense film and those elements appeal to younger males as well," says Kamasa. He adds that older viewers may be attracted to the themes it explores about the extremes of reality television.

Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games. Photo credit: Murray Close Katniss is mentored by drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson)

With Suzanne Collins as co-writer, The Hunger Games blends the totalitarian world of 1984 with the arena-based slaughter of Gladiator.

The sci-fi story is set in Panem, a country that has risen from the ruins of North America. The land is ruled with an iron fist by a Capitol which demands each of its 12 districts send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games each year.

The games are a televised event in which the "tributes" must fight to the death until one victor remains.

The story is told through the eyes of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played by Lawrence), a miner's daughter and skilled huntress from Panem's poor outlying 12th district.

Lawrence has described the character as "a futuristic Joan of Arc".

Donald Sutherland stars as President Snow in The Hunger Games. Photo credit: Murray Close Donald Sutherland stars as President Snow

Collins says she drew inspiration from the Greek legend of the Minotaur, in which tributes of boys and girls from Athens were sent to Crete every nine years to be devoured by the monster in the labyrinth.

Reviews of the The Hunger Games have been largely positive.

Variety said it was "relentlessly paced, unflagging in its sense of peril and blessed with a spunky protagonist who can hold her own alongside Bella Swan and Lisbeth Salander in the pantheon of pop-lit heroines".

"As thrilling and smart as it is terrifying," was Empire's four-star verdict. "There have been a number of big-gun literary series brought to screen over the past decade. This slays them all."

"Rarely does a blockbuster live up to its overheated hype, but The Hunger Games proved to be an exception," said Kate Muir in The Times. "Lawrence and this franchise will go far."

But Time magazine's Richard Corliss found that the movie lacked the book's ferocity. "The movie flinches when death nears; there's no kick to the kills."

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Photo credit: Murray Close Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is able to use her hunting skills in the arena

"I'm not convinced this franchise will be as ginormous, in the long run, as Hollywood hopes," said Salon.com's Andrew O'Hehir. He described the film as a "hash job" that would be "probably adequate to satisfy hardcore fans, but only just".

Blood cuts

Last week it was announced that the UK version of The Hunger Games would undergo seven seconds of cuts to tone down levels of "blood and injury".

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) said distributor Lionsgate "chose to make cuts in order to achieve a 12A classification".

The alternative would have been a potentially less-lucrative 15 rating.

Lionsgate's Zygi Kamasa says audiences won't notice the difference.

"We could have appealed and pushed to have it at 12A without the cuts, but we took the view that making changes to seven seconds was so marginal. I would defy 99% of people to look at both versions and see where the changes are."

He added: "The fans of the book go as young as 10 or 11 and it would have been such a shame to have got a 15 rating. It's still a visceral film."

The Hunger Games opens on 23 March

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games In the US, The Hunger Games was rated PG-13

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