Weekend box office: What final 'Hunger Games' movie tells us about Hollywood

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2' topped the box office this past weekend, but the film also had the lowest opening of the series. Here's a look at how Hollywood plans its franchises and what accounts for the performance of 'Mockingjay.'

Murray Close/Lionsgate/AP
'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2' stars Jennifer Lawrence (r.) and Elizabeth Banks (l.).

The last “Hunger Games” movie, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2," arrived this past weekend, but it didn't take off quite as high as previous installments.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” which is the fourth and final installment in the series based on the books by Suzanne Collins, had the lowest opening weekend gross of any of the “Games” movies. “Mockingjay” placed first at the box office with a gross of $101 million but that’s $20 million less than the previous installment’s domestic opening weekend, the previous lowest opener of the series. 

“Mockingjay” stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth. Lawrence portrays main character Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a dystopian world with an oppressive government.

Meanwhile, previous box office champions proved hard to dislodge on the rest of the list. The James Bond movie “Spectre,” which opened at the beginning of this month, grossed more than $14 million this past weekend to come in at second place. The animated film “The Peanuts Movie” came in third, grossing more than $12 million. 

The new movies “The Night Before” (a comedy starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie) and the drama “The Secret in Their Eyes” (it stars Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Chiwetel Ejiofor) opened in fourth and fifth, respectively. “Night” grossed more than $10 million and “Secret” took in more than $6 million.

Those are obviously low numbers and reviews for both films were not positive. In addition, “Night” will face holiday comedy competition when the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler film “Sisters” debuts next month.

As for “Games,” what accounts for the movie’s opening weekend performance? A $101 million opening is, of course, not bad by any measurement. But movie studios like to see their movie openings build on one another as time goes on.

With the “Harry Potter” movie series, for example, the final installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” had the best opening weekend gross of the entire series. “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” the final “Twilight” film, also did very well, almost matching the previously most successful installment. The second “Divergent” film in the series, which is also based on a young adult book series, just about matched the opening weekend gross of the first movie as well. 

In addition, movies continue to gross stratospheric amounts. Of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time domestically (without adjusting for inflation), seven came out since 2000. Even if one does adjust for inflation, a top-grossing movie like "Gone With the Wind" and "The Sound of Music" came along about once every decade. By contrast, we've seen top-performing films like "The Avengers," "Jurassic World," and "Avatar" within the last six years.

And since the "Games" movies debuted in 2012, they've done so well at the box office that they've increased expectations for themselves. The "Games" movies have set box office records in the past. This is why the $101 million opening weekend gross of "Mockingjay" would in any way be counted as less than stellar.

So the comparatively lower opening weekend gross of the final “Games" installment certainly stands out. Perhaps the popularity of the book series is waning. On both the Nov. 17 IndieBound and the Nov. 29 New York Times sales lists for young readers’ series, the “Games” books no longer appear. By contrast, older series like the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” books are still there.   

In addition, some critics complained that the installment before this one, “Mockingjay – Part 1,” was marking time until this new movie. (One book, “Mockingjay,” was split into two movies.) Perhaps the slowing pace of the story, as the events of one book were split into two films, meant the movies went off audiences' radar.

However, the “Games” series has a good history of holding on at the box office. The last “Games” movie, “Mockingjay – Part 1,” topped the box office for multiple weeks after it was released. “Mockingjay – Part 2” could be a champion over the next few weeks and, if it grosses enough, perhaps meet or even surpass the grosses of previous "Games" movies. However, it’s all but inevitable that the new “Star Wars” film will topple "Mockingjay" in mid-December if it can hang on that long.

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