Box Office: ‘Hunger Games’ Prequel Lands on Top With $44 Million, ‘The Marvels’ Collapses With Historic 78% Drop

The odds were ever in favor of “The Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which emerged victorious in a busy box office weekend despite opening slightly behind expectations.

The Lionsgate film, which brings audiences back to the dystopia of Panem for the first time in nearly a decade, collected $44 million from 3,776 North American theaters and $98 million globally in its first weekend of release. Those initial ticket sales didn’t recapture the spark of the original franchise, which propelled Jennifer Lawerence to global stardom and inspired three sequels. But they were enough to win the weekend over three fellow newcomers, Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s threequel “Trolls Band Together,” Sony’s gory thriller “Thanksgiving” and director Taika Waititi’s sports comedy “Next Goal Wins.”

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With the glut of new offerings, ticket sales for Disney’s superhero sequel “The Marvels” cratered by 78% to land another ignominious record: the biggest second-weekend drop (by far) in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before this weekend, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” withstood the largest decline of the franchise with 69.9%.

After notching the worst start in the entire MCU, “The Marvels” tied for third place with $10.2 million from 4,030 theaters, bringing its domestic tally to $65 million. The $220 million-plus budgeted tentpole is the rare Marvel movie to underperform at the box office, and part of the problem is that it’s bearing the brunt of the audience’s fatigue toward this sprawling franchise. But at this rate, it may not even match the opening weekend of its predecessor, 2019’s “Captain Marvel” ($153 million), by the end of its theatrical run. It’s shaping up to be the first MCU movie to fall short of $100 million at the domestic box office.

Although “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” opened significantly lower than its predecessors — each of the four “Hunger Games” installments launched to at least $100 million at the domestic box office — analysts believe the film is well positioned in its theatrical run. It cost $100 million to produce, more than the first “Hunger Games” but substantially less than the three sequels (with the final 2015 adventure costing $160 million). Even if the prequel turns a profit for Lionsgate, it’s too soon to tell if ticket sales are strong enough to justify future sequels and spinoffs in the “Hunger Games” world.

“This is a very good opening for an action-adventure prequel,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “On average, prequels start with approximately half of the previous film’s opening, and this weekend’s figure is close to that.”

“West Side Story” breakout Rachel Zegler and “The Gilded Age” actor Tom Blyth star in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” based on the 2020 novel by author Suzanne Collins. It’s a standalone film in the $3 billion “Hunger Games” franchise, which takes place six decades before Katniss Everdeen bravely volunteered as tribute. The story centers on a young Coriolanus Snow, who later becomes the tyrannical president of the dystopian Panem, as well as District 12 tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, whom he mentors in the 10th annual Hunger Games. Reviews have been mixed, with 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and a “B+” CinemaScore. Audiences were mostly young women; 65% were female and 73% were between the ages of 18-34.

It likely benefitted from a late-breaking boost in publicity (SAG-AFTRA granted the film an interim agreement days before the strike ended on Nov. 9), which allowed the cast — including Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage and “Euphoria” star Hunter Schafer — the opportunity to promote the movie before it arrived in theaters. Other recent strike-era releases, like “Killers of the Flower Moon” or “Dumb Money,” struggled without the cast of famous faces to bring attention to their movies.

“We were a little lighter [than projections] domestically and a little over [projections] internationally, so we’re thrilled with the result,” says Lionsgate’s motion picture group vice chairman Adam Fogelson. “It’ll be a great business result for the studio.”

Except for “Next Goal Wins,” this weekend’s newcomers worked as counter-programming against each other and successfully carved out decent receipts in this pre-Turkey Day frame. It’ll only get more crowded at the box office next weekend with the openings of Ridley Scott’s historical epic “Napoleon” and Disney’s animated musical “Wish.”

In second place, “Trolls Band Together” opened on par with expectations, generating $30.6 million from 3,870 theaters to start. It’s the third-biggest opening weekend for an animated film this year, far behind the No. 1 and 2 spots of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” ($146 million) and “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” ($120 million). Those animated offerings, as well as “Elemental” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” have benefitted from impressive box office staying power. With an “A” CinemaScore, “Trolls 3” could enjoy a similarly long run over the next few weeks.

“The opening weekend numbers and audience scores point to a tremendous opportunity heading into the holidays,” says Universal’s president of domestic distribution Jim Orr.

The family-friendly “Trolls,” which features the voices of Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake in an adventure about an NSYNC-style boy band, got a head start overseas and has already earned $76.3 million at the international box office and $108 million globally. It cost $95 million to produce.

It’s impossible to judge the threequel’s performance compared to the sequel, 2020’s “Trolls World Tour,” which premiered simultaneously on demand while cinemas were shuttered during the worst of the pandemic. The first film, 2016’s “Trolls,” opened to $46 million domestically and became a hit with $350 million at the global box office.

Director Eli Roth’s R-rated slasher “Thanksgiving” opened slightly behind expectations with $10.2 million from 3,204 venues. It tied with “The Marvels,” so the final placement on box office charts will be determined on Monday. The film cost just $15 million to produce, so it could still make a killing by the end of its box office run. Patrick Dempsey and TikTok star Addison Rae lead the cast of “Thanksgiving,” which centers around a mysterious, axe-wielding killer who terrorizes the residents of Plymouth, Mass., after a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy. It landed a “B-” CinemaScore and a surprisingly strong 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Reviews are excellent and the picture should play well over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend,” Gross says.

Another scary movie, Universal and Blumhouse’s terrifying video game adaptation “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” rounded out the top five with $3.3 million from 2,829 theaters. After four weekends of release, the modestly budgeted film has generated a scary-good $132 million in North America and $271 million worldwide to date.

Waititi’s feel-good sports comedy “Next Goal Wins” flopped in its domestic debut, landing in sixth place with $2.7 million from 2,240 theaters. Without positive reviews or strong audience scores (it holds a 41% on Rotten Tomatoes and earned a “B+” CinemaScore), the Searchlight film may struggle to rebound over the crowded holiday season. Michael Fassbender stars in “Next Goal Wins,” based on the true story of the American Samoa soccer team and the coach who is tasked with turning the perennial losers into champions.

Elsewhere, Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” dropped to No. 10 with $1.9 million from 1,714 locations in its fifth outing. Ticket sales for the $200 million crime epic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, are running out of steam at $63.5 million in North America and $145.7 million worldwide.

It’s been complicated to assess whether this result is successful or terrible for such an expensive film. It’s way less than Scorsese’s star-driven films tend to earn. But Apple, which backed the big-budget tentpole and hired Paramount to distribute it theatrically, doesn’t have the same metrics of success compared to traditional Hollywood players. It’s banking on Oscars attention and new Apple TV+ subscribers to help justify the massive costs.

“In the end, the three-and-a-half hour running time was indeed a box office killer, and I doubt award nominations will push this much higher,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations.

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