Making history, Lionsgate's The Hunger Games opened to an astounding $155 million at the domestic box office, the third-best debut of all time and the best for any film opening outside of summer.
"It was the perfect storm. Having the first film in a franchise to be so gigantic is amaing. We had a great book and a great director in Gary Ross," said Lionsgate president of marketing Tim Palen, whose team is credited with a savvy campaign.
Domestic box-office revenues were up a whopping 78 percent from a year ago, thanks to the might of Hunger Games, which changes the fortunes of Lionsgate and gives the studio an instant tentople franchise. Lionsgate will make three more films by splitting the final book in Collins' trilogy into two movies.
Hunger Games is projected to place No. 1 in virtually every foreign market, but it did best in English-speaking territories, particularly Australia, wehre it debuted to $6.7 million. Hunger Games turned in $7.5 million in the U.K. despite unseasonably warm weather, which often keeps consumers outside.
In North America, the tentpole came in not far behind the $158.4 million earned by The Dark Knight in its July 2008 debut. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 holds the record for best debut with $169.2 million in summer 2011.
Among the past films that Hunger Games surpassed in its opening weekend were Spider-Man 3 ($151.1 million in 2007), The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($142.8 million in 2009) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 ($138.1 million last year).
Part of the movie's strength is that it is appealing to males as well as females, unlike the femme-heavy Twilight franchise, another blockbuster film property based on a young-adult book series. Males made up 39 percent of Hunger Games' Friday night audience.
"The numbers just kept growing and growing. And based on the trajectory of the weekend, we are going to have an unbelievable hold. We are going to play and play," Lionsgate executive vp distribution David Spitz said. "I think that when we initially looked at this property, we thought we were going to have Twilight numbers in terms of females, but we didn't."
Hunger Games also played like a family film, evidenced by its strong Friday to Saturday hold. The film fell a narrow 25 percent, while the Twilight and Harry Potter films fall anywhere from 44 percent to 60 percent.
According to CinemaScore, 49 percent of those showing up to see Hunger Games were under age 25; Lionsgate's exit polling showed that 44 percent were under 25.
Hunger Games played in 4,137 theaters at the domestic box office, including 268 Imax theaters, which turned in a hefty $10.6 milion for a per-screen average of $40,000, a record for a 2D nonsequel.
Elsewhere at the domestic box office, Sony and MGM's Jonah Hill-Channing Tatum comedy 21 Jump Street stayed strong its opening weekend despite Hunger Games. The R-rated pic fell 41 percent to $21.3 million, putting its domestic cume at a heady $71.1 million.
Universal and Illumination's Dr. Seuss' The Lorax came in No. 3, grossing $13.1 million in its fourth weekend for an enviable domestic gross of $177.3 million.
For full results, see below.
Domestic Box Office, March 23-25
Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume
1. The Hunger Games, 1/4,137, Lionsgate, $155 million.
2. 21 Jump Street, 2/3,121, Sony/MGM, $21.3 million, $71.1 million.
3. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, 4/3,677, Universal/Illumination, $13.1 million, $177.3 million.
4. John Carter, 3/3,212, Disney, $5 million, $62.3 million.
5. Act of Valor, 5/2,216, Relativity/Bandito Brothers, $2.1 million, $65.9 million.
6. Project X, 4/2,068, Warner Bros., $1.95 million, $51.8 million.
7. A Thousand Words, 3/1,787, Paramount/DreamWorks, $1.93 million, $14.9 million.
8. Safe House, 7/1,330, Universal, $1.39 million, $122.6 million.
9. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, 7/1,340, New Line/Warner Bros., $1.37 million, $97.2 million.
10. Casa de Mi Padre, 2/478, Lionsgate, $1.1 million, $3.9 million.