Box Office Guru Wrapup: Catching Fire Toasts the Competition

Thor: The Dark World and and The Best Man Holiday round out the top three.

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Eliminating its foes and setting records in the process, the hotly-anticipated tentpole The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opened to staggering results atop the box office with explosive grosses worldwide. In North America, the Katniss sequel debuted to an estimated $161.1M making it the second largest debut of the year and the fourth biggest of all-time. The only stronger films all benefited from 3D ticket prices -- The Avengers with $207.4M, this year's Iron Man 3 with $174.1M, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 with $169.2M.

If estimates hold, Fire will edge past the $160.9M of The Dark Knight Rises which until now held the record for the biggest opening of a 2D film (it was also affected by a shooting tragedy). Sunday estimates are guesses after all and final numbers to be reported on Monday will indicate whether it ends at number four or five on the all-time list. Playing in 4,163 theaters -- a new record for a non-summer release - the PG-13 pic averaged a scorching $38,704. The gross was 6% better than the $152.5M launch of the first Hunger Games movie a year and a half ago. That film also set the all-time 2D record. Regardless of how the final numbers shape up, Catching Fire easily set new all-time highs for both November and non-summer debuts beating the $142.8M of The Twilight Saga: A New Moon set in 2009.

What was truly remarkable about the new Hunger flick was how it held up on Saturday. Its decline from opening day was the exact same as for its predecessor which was amazing considering how Fire is a sequel and also had an earlier start with shows beginning at 8:00pm on Thursday night instead of midnight for the first Panem pic. Fire was expected to be more front-loaded and have a larger Saturday fall.

The fireworks began with the official Friday opening day gross of $70.9M including $25.3M from Thursday night shows. Saturday dipped 25% to $53M while Sunday is estimated to slide by 30% to $37.3M. The first Hunger Games fell 31% on Sunday although that was a March release when there was no NFL football that day. Should Catching Fire end up with a 35% decline on Sunday, that would put the opening weekend at about $158M. A deep freeze across the northeast and midwest on Sunday may also impact the entire moviegoing landscape. Many industry observers were expecting an even larger debut north of $170M, however regardless of expectations, this tentpole delivered sensational results and will certainly be a profitable venture.

Book franchises work in mysterious ways. The second Twilight opened in November a year after the first and saw twice as much business on opening weekend. But Hunger Games seems to be performing more like the Harry Potter series. The first wizard pic broke the all-time opening weekend record and then its follow-up one year later opened a tiny bit below it. Fans made a mad rush to see the debut film and then attendance dipped a notch on the second installment. For Fire, it inched up a tad but was basically in the same neighborhood. Reviews for Fire were terrific with most major critics finding it better than its predecessor. Audiences liked what they paid for as the CinemaScore grade was an A just like last time.

Like most 2D and 3D tentpoles, Catching Fire had an IMAX version which was quite popular with hard-core fans willing to pay a premium for a better experience. $12.6M of the gross (8%) came from those large-format screens setting a new three-day opening record in November edging out the $12.5M from last year's Skyfall. Worldwide IMAX grosses stand at more than $18M. Studio research showed that the new Hunger Games played 59% female and those over and under 25 were evenly split.

Overseas, Catching Fire rolled out across 62 territories this weekend grossing a sensational $146.6M including the first full week in Brazil which opened a week earlier. Lionsgate reported that it more than doubled the first movie's openings in most major territories. The global tally sits at $307.7M and the smash hit could crush the half-billion mark after next weekend.

Far back in second place with an estimated $14.1M was the comic hit Thor: The Dark World which tumbled 61% due to competition from another event sequel (and Hemsworth lad). The Disney release has grossed $167.8M so far in North America and $548.8M worldwide. China still leads the international marketplace with $48.3M and Japan is the final major market still to open.

Yet another November sequel followed. The Best Man Holiday fell 59% in its second weekend to an estimated $12.5M lifting the cume to $50.4M. Despite the A+ Cinemascore, the Universal release played like a sequel with a built-in audience and dropped sharply. A final near the $75-80M range could result and a third film in the series is being developed.

Stating once again that they will not pay money to see Vince Vaughn do the same character for the 25th time, audiences rejected the actor's latest effort Delivery Man which opened in fourth with a lousy $8.2M, according to estimates. Averaging a wimpy $2,706 from 3,036 locations, the PG-13 film about a man whose sperm donations helped create 533 children followed the disappointing $17.3M bow of Vaughn's The Internship from last summer as well as the $12.8M of his previous film The Watch. Although the funnyman anchored five hits opening to $30M+ between 2004 and 2009, he has not had any hits in four years now. Reviews were weak.

Relativity's toon Free Birds grossed an estimated $5.3M, down 35%, for a $48.6M total. The comedy Last Vegas witnessed its biggest drop yet sliding 48% in its fourth frame to an estimated $4.4M with $53.9M to date for CBS Films.

Getting to within striking distance of the century club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa fell 54% to an estimated $3.5M giving Paramount $95.5M so far. The Sandra Bullock megahit Gravity placed eighth with an estimated $3.3M, down 46% in its eighth round, for a domestic take of $245.5M. A massive $35.5M China opening over six days propelled the overseas total to $331.5M and the global tally to a sensational $577M.

Two potential Oscar contenders rounded out the top ten. Fox Searchlight's 12 Years A Slave slipped 39% to an estimated $2.8M and has banked $29.4M to date. Focus expanded its Matthew McConaughey drama Dallas Buyers Club from 184 to 666 locations and collected an estimated $2.8M as well for a lukewarm $4,159 average and $6.5M total.

In a special exclusive engagement at one Disney-owned L.A. theater, the studio's animated feature Frozen got off to an explosive start grossing a phenomenal $238,000 this weekend from the solo venue in a run leading up to Wednesday's nationwide release in over 3,600 theaters. The exclusive event featured special bonuses for moviegoers and tickets were priced between $13 for just the film for kids to $51 for a VIP package that included breakfast, popcorn, soda, reserved seating and no waiting in line. Several Disney toons in the past started with a very limited platform run including The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $218M which was down 9% from last year's pre-Thanksgiving frame when tentpole The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 opened at number one with $141.1M; but up 2% from 2011 when Breaking Dawn Part 1 debuted in the top spot with $138.1M.

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