“The Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is approaching the $100 million mark worldwide three days after its release.
Those ticket sales, including $44 million in North America and $54.5 million internationally, were enough to top the box office. But they didn’t come close to recapturing the glory of the original “Hunger Games” franchise, which launched Jennifer Lawerence to stardom and collectively grossed $3 billion worldwide. The first four installments, released between 2012 and 2015, each generated at least $100 million domestically and $200 million (or up to $300 million, in the case of 2013’s “Catching Fire”) worldwide. on their respective opening weekends.
“We came in a little bit lighter (than projections) domestically and a little bit above (projections) internationally, so we’re delighted with the result,” says Adam Fogelson, vice president of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. “It will be a great commercial result for the studio.”
Analysts agree that “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is well positioned, financially speaking, in its theatrical career. It cost $100 million to produce, more than the first “Hunger Games,” but substantially less than the three sequels (2015’s final adventure cost $160 million).
“Prequels never do as well as direct sequels,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “It won’t be a huge success for Lionsgate, but it will be a moderate one.”
So what does all this mean for “The Hunger Games” series? “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” will likely generate profits for Lionsgate, which licenses its titles to international distributors to offset part of the film’s cost. However, these inaugural receipts don’t indicate a resounding interest in Panem… at least, not enough to completely reboot the property without Katniss Everdeen and her perennial online boyfriend, Peeta Mellark.
Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth lead an all-new cast and take the stage in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” based on a 2020 novel by author Suzanne Collins and set decades before Katniss Everdeen bravely offers herself up as a tribute. The story centers on a young Coriolanus Snow, who later becomes the tyrannical leader of Panem, as well as District 12 tribute Lucy Gray Baird, whom he advises in the tenth annual Hunger Games. Reviews were mixed (it has a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes), although audiences seem to be more enthusiastic than critics.
“Any studio that spends $100 million on a prequel expects a trilogy,” Bock says. “They didn’t expect to do something unique.”
Whether the studio returns to District 12 (or beyond) will depend on the film’s staying power through Thanksgiving, as well as international box office participation. The original films were equally popular in the US and abroad, but the prequel is off to a slightly stronger start in foreign territories. Outside of North America, key markets were the United Kingdom with $6.7 million, Germany with $4.8 million, China with $4.5 million, France with $4.1 million, and Mexico with 3.7 million dollars. China, once a huge market for Hollywood films, has been hostile to non-local language titles. However, the original “Hunger Games” films were not as popular in China, each grossing around $20 million in the country.
As for the competition, Lionsgate’s Fogelson expects the film to remain a draw among families over Thanksgiving weekend and into December. At some point, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” reportedly clashed with Disney’s superhero sequel “The Wonderland” during the busy Christmas stretch. But the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has completely failed, and ticket sales have plummeted 78% in its second weekend of release. It will be lucky to reach $100 million domestically by the end of its theatrical run.
“Historically, the Thanksgiving corridor tends to work well for animated films and PG-13 live-action films,” Fogelson says. “We are the only PG-13 live-action film with momentum heading into a very significant box office weekend.”
Although “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” has been positioned as a standalone film in the “Hunger Games” universe, Fogelson teases that moviegoers may not have seen the last of Panem.
“The movie opened up an infinite series of possibilities that Suzanne could go and that (Lionsgate) could go with her,” he says.