UPDATE, Saturday AM: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes came in with $19.1M Friday. Though right in the range of where we saw it yesterday, the Suzanne Collins prequel is bound to file under the $50M+ projection with $44M-$46M per industry estimates.
After The Marvels posted a franchise low for the Marvel Cinematic Universe of $46.1M, isn’t Songbirds and Snakes also a misfire? Not necessarily, and at a $100M-plus production cost, 65% of which is funded by foreign sales with another $20M in German tax credits, the Lionsgate Francis Lawrence directed movie is structured completely differently financially than the $200M The Marvels. Lionsgate has largely covered their nut and exposure in foreign territory licensing, materially participaing after their partners recover their costs.
The challenge here for Lionsgate is launching this movie all along, aside from the actors strike, is the fact that the Collins novel wasn’t a big hit like the others, hitting shelves during Covid and 3.5M novels sold. The other factor that can’t be ignored is that Hunger Games die-hards were upset when the studio split up Mockingjay into two movies. Lawrence heard the outcry, and has his regrets.
The bigger question going forward is whether or not this is enough to keep a franchise going. By major studio standards it is not. When Fantastic Beasts came out and opened to $74.4M domestic, $218.3M we slammed it, saying that it wasn’t enough to fire off a five-film franchise. That was correct, and the Harry Potter spinoff only made it to three films with grosses plummeting with each installment.
At the same time, Fantastic Beasts opened up a new box office benchmark for prequel movies, and what their potential was veering from the core franchise. The first Fantastic Beasts opening stateside was 56% off from the opening of the final Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows Part 2‘s $169.1M. That’s the same exact percentage drop between Songbirds & Snakes and Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2‘s $102.6M. “This is to be expected,” is what several distributions sources are telling me about the results here; many sensitive to the fact that despite Songbirds & Snakes getting some form of promotion coming out of the SAG-AFTRA strike, like other movies before it, its publicity and marketing campaign was off-kilter due to actors forbidden to promote.
All of this said, by film foreign sales funding standards, the opening here for the Hunger Games prequel is alright. “If each major foreign partner fares well in their territories with the movie, they’ll definitely buy into another Hunger Games installment, no question about it,” says one foreign sales big macher.
“This isn’t so much about expanding the franchise as rebuilding it,” says the same source about Songbirds & Snakes which arrives in theaters eight years after Mockingjay 2. The distance between Deathly Hallows 2 and Fantastic Beasts was five years.
Even with Songbirds and Snakes opening, there’s nothing wrong with feeding the franchise: The mere opening of this movie will re-ignite the Hunger Games library over the holiday period as many return to the original movies either in PVOD, SVOD, etc.
Another comp here for Songbirds and Snakes is the second Divergent: Insurgent, which cost $110M and opened to $52.2M domestic, and legged out to $130.1M U.S./Canada and $297M. That sequel had an A- Cinemascore.
The CinemaScore for Songbirds & Snakes came in at B+, the lowest for the Hunger Games franchise but not far from both Mockingjays‘ A-. However, hope prevails in other exits. On PostTrak, Songbirds & Snakes is still 4 1/2 stars, with 87% positive. Best scores come from women under 25 at 93% who the biggest demo for the movie at 37%. The 18-24 bunch at 45%, the biggest age demo, embraced Songbirds & Snakes with a 90% grade. Women over 25 at 27% gave it an 85%. Men over 25 at 21% graded it at 81% while men under 25 showed up at 15% with an 83% grade. Diversity demos were 50% Caucasian, 24% Hispanic and Latino, 11% Black and 10% Asian. Sixty-nine percent definite recommend. We’ll see how all of this kicks into tonight and beyond.
Interesting about the movie is that it’s not a typical NYC and LA type of movie: Highest grossing theater is the AMC Boston Commons with $61K so far. The pic is playing best in the South and Mountain Regions. Imax and PLFs are only fueling 36% of the weekend gross, which seems low. Rotten Tomatoes upticked to 60% fresh with critics.
With an overall total of four wide releases, the fall weekend box office is showing the third best result post Labor Day with $115.7M after the weekend of Oct. 13-15 ($132.5M, when Taylor Swift opened) and Oct. 27-29 ($126.1M when Five Nights at Freddy’s opened).
Second place goes to Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls Band Together which is coming up strong with a $30M opening after a $9.37M Friday. The Walt Dohrn-directed threequel gets an A CinemaScore, just like the first one. PostTrak is great at 87% and 68% recommend with kids under 12 hugging Trolls 3 at 95%. Mom leaning at 69% female, with 57% of the audience between 18-34. The largest quad was 25-34 years old at 29%. Diversity demos are 38% Latino and Hispanic, 36% Caucasian, 7% Black and 19% Asian/other. Trolls 3 are ruling South Central, Midwest and West. The Cinemark Rialto in Rialto, CA is the highest grossing venue in the nation with over $16K.
Third place belongs to Disney’s The Marvels with a second Friday of $2.8M (ouch, -87%) and second weekend forecast of $9.7M, -79% –the biggest second weekend drop ever for an MCU title, and a running total of $64.5M by EOD Sunday.
TriStar/Spyglass Media’s Thanksgiving made $3.825 million on Friday from 3,204 locations. Opening outlook is $10M in fourth place. B- CinemaScore, which is par for a horror movie.
Searchlight’s Next Goal Wins in 6th place is running into foal poles as expected with a $2.8M opening after $1.1M Friday. B+ Cinemascore.
Amazon MGM’s Saltburn, the second movie from Oscar winning fimmaker Emerald Fennel hit seven locations this weekend with a great theater average of $45,5K. Projected weekend is $318K after a $168K Friday. Pic is booked at AMC Century City, AMC Grove LA, AMC Burbank, Angelika NYC, AMC Lincoln Square, Alamo Brooklyn and Alamo South Lamar in Austin. Seventy four percent fresh from RT Critics for this Oxford University student thriller noir who snakes his way into his colleagues wealthy family during the course of a summer. Another Jacob Elordi hit at the specialty box office. Pricilla looks to do around $2.4M this weekend hitting $17M, which will takeover Marie Antoniette as Sofia Coppola’s second highest grossing movie.
UPDATE, Friday PM: Lionsgate’s prequel The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is looking at a Friday between $18.5M-$20M (that includes previews) for an opening between $45M-$50M at 3,776 theaters. Some rivals have director Francis Lawrence’s fourth Hunger Games movie between $45M-$47M. The competition isn’t snarking over the fact that this movie might come in under $50M, sympathetic to the fact that the current marketplace needs to be graded on a curve for a while due to the aftermath of the strikes and actors’ forbidden to promote, but also it’s not a bad result for a movie that cost $100M+.
Aside from critics on Rotten Tomatoes at 59% Rotten, what gives Lionsgate and others hope is that no one is hating on the prequel like The Marvels after great exits last night and a current RT audience score of 91%. The box office tale of Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes will be told after its run over Thanksgiving. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 went on to do around another $100M after its opening weekend after Black Friday weekend. Songbirds & Snakes has all the Imax, PLFs, 4DX and premium ticket showtimes.
Booked at 3,870 theaters, Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls Band Together looks solid with a $8.7M Friday (including $1.3M previews) and a $28M 3-day and $29.1M total which includes sneak previews. Critics aren’t over the moon at 57% Rotten. No RT audience score yet.
Disney/Marvel Studios’ The Marvels at 4,030 is seeing a second Friday of $3.5M and second weekend of $12.25M (-73%) for a running total by Sunday of $67M.
In fourth place is Tri-Star/Spyglass Media’s Eli Roth horror pic, Thanksgiving with a $4M Friday and $10M 3-day at 3,204 theaters.
Fifth is Universal’s Five Nights at Freddy’s at 2,829 theaters with a fourth Friday of $900K and fourth frame of $3.1M, -66%, for a running total of $132.2M by Sunday. The movie is also available on Peacock.
Outside the top 5 is Searchlight’s Next Goal Wins which is seeing $817K, and a $2.2M very low opening at 2,240 theaters. Reviews were awful at 41% Rotten for Taika Waititi’s post Searchlight pic after his Oscar adapted screenplay win for Jojo Rabbit. The movie harkens back to his indie-style of capturing the nuances of real-life people (think his 2016 movie The Hunt for the Wilderpeople). It’s neither zany, star-studded anarchistic absurdity ala Jojo Rabbit nor is it Thor, which is making it a challenge at the box office.
UPDATED EXCLUSIVE, Friday AM: Lionsgate’s Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ Thursday is officially $5.75M.
Comps here are spinoffs such as Hobbs & Shaw ($5.8M) and The Nun ($5.4M); pics that opened north of $50M+. Last Thursday, The Marvels did $6.6M before sputtering at a $46.1M, the lowest opening ever for a Disney MCU movie.
Ignore the critics, because the first exits for the prequel are very good. Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak shows 4 1/2 stars and 87% positive with a 70% definite recommend. Meanwhile, the Rotten Tomatoes audience score stands at 90%. True, the faithful come out first on Thursday, but that bodes well for word of mouth, and getting the excitement out there to others over the holiday week. Parents (mostly moms at 76%) gave the movie 5 stars/94% and kids under 12 are 4 1/2 stars/81%.
Women showed up last night to Songbirds & Snakes at 65%, which is a tad higher than Mockingjay 2‘s 60%. The 18-34 turnout was huge at 75%. Biggest demos in descending order were women under 25 at 36%, followed by women over 25 at 28%, men over 25 at 21% and men under 25 at 14%. Girls under 12 showed up at 75% with kids overall saying that the movie is a must-see at 94%.
Universal is official reporting $1.3M in previews from 3,050 theatres for DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls Band Together from showtimes that began at 2PM. Five stars on PostTrak from general audiences and 4 1/2 stars from parents. Overall audience was 62% female, with 52% over 25, 48% under. DreamWorks Animation’s Bad Guys posted a preview of $1.1M and debuted to $23.95M. That’s one comp.
Tri-Star/Spyglass Media’s Thanksgiving grossed $1M in Thursday previews that began at 7 p.m. from 2,720 locations. The movie at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes is filmmaker Eli Roth’s best-reviewed film to date. PostTrak exits at 73% positive and 3 1/2 stars are to be expected for an R-rated genre movie that pulled in guys last night at 60%, 66% between 18-34.
Searchlight’s Next Goal Wins from Taika Waititi is also wide today. The soccer comedy is 78% positive and 4 stars with moviegoers on PostTrak.
Rest of Thursday and the week is as follows:
1.) The Marvels (Dis) 4,030 theaters Thu $1.2M (-31% from Wed), Wk $54.8M/Wk 1
2.) Pricilla (A24) 2,361 theaters Thu $382K (-23%), Wk $6.5M, Total $14.4M/Wk 3
3.) Five Nights at Freddys (Uni) 3,694 theaters Thu $355K (-20%) Wk $10.9M, Total $129.1M/Wk 3
4.) Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple/Par) 3357 theaters Thu $347K (-24%), Wk $6.3M Total $61.6M/Wk 4
5.) The Holdovers (Foc) 778 theaters Thu $263K (-21%) Wk $4.5M/Total $5.6M/Wk 3.
EXCLUSIVE, Thursday, 10:21 PM: Lionsgate’s prequel The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is looking at a Thursday night between $5.75M-$6M after showtimes that began at 3PM.
Again, these numbers aren’t from the studio and we could see a slightly different result by morning. While some will be quick to yell that Marvel Studios’ misfire last weekend, The Marvels, began its weekend journey with a Thursday night of $6.6M which resulted in the lowest opening ever for a Disney MCU title at $46.1M, note that Songbirds & Snakes cost half the price of The Marvels‘ $200M at $100M. Furthermore, Lionsgate always covers their risk on a big title with a bulk of foreign sales.
Projections heading into the weekend were at $50M+ stateside, $100M+ worldwide. We’ll see where this lands. Part of the uphill battle for the movie is that it’s a brand new cast sans franchise star Jennifer Lawrence, and one character to crossover from the core franchise, that being Coriolanus Snow. Similar to that first movie when Lawrence wasn’t a marquee name, Lionsgate is rolling the dice on the Suzanne Collins brand’s relaunch on West Side Story actress Rachel Zegler as fiery tribute Lucy Gray Baird and even fresher-face, UK actor Tom Blyth playing Snow.
Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes‘ preview night isn’t that far from Fast & Furious spinoff Hobbs & Shaw‘s $5.8M (7PM showtimes start) which went on to a $60M opening; this despite the fact that movie was extremely male-leaning to Hunger Games‘ female crowd. Another comp that’s being used is Amazon/MGM’s Creed III which did $5.4M in its Thursday night preview and yielded a $58.3M 3-day. Closer to the female demo is Conjuring spinoff The Nun which minted a $5.4M Thursday and $53.8M 3-day with women turning out at 49% per CinemaScore over its weekend.
Note, Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes was never going to post a preview in the vicinity of the last Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 which came out in November 2015 and did a $16M Thursday night for the lowest domestic opening in the Collins franchise of $102.7M. Nor was Songbirds & Snakes bound to emulate Harry Potter 2016 spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which saw a Thursday night of $8.75M and 3-day of $74.4M U.S./Canada. Essentially, Hunger Games‘ fanbase isn’t as broad as Harry Potter‘s. (Fantastic Beasts skewed 55% female to Mockingjay 2‘s 60% female, with a majority of Potter fans older with 65% over 25 vs. Mockingjay 2‘s 50/50 split for the under/over 25 crowd).
Part of the challenge here for Lionsgate in getting audiences out to the prequel is that Hunger Games fans weren’t fully aware there was a new novel by Collins: It was released during the heart of Covid in May 2020 only seeing 500K sales in its first week per NPD BookScan when bookstores were closed. That sales figure ultimately rose to 3.5M copies sold.
While critics numbering 112 on Rotten Tomatoes are giving Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes the lowest score in the franchise at 64% fresh, the series has often been critic proof, and has held quite well during the holiday season. Mockingjay 2 amassed $198.5M in its first ten days of release thanks to the Thanksgiving day stretch.
Social media analytics firm RelishMix says that social media convo on Songbirds & Snakes “is running mixed-leaning-positive with snarky Gen Z and younger new Millennial fans whistling their praises for the latest entry to the franchise. Many are enamored by the nostalgia the franchise brings back from their childhoods: ’14-year-old me is so happy, and 25-year-old me is sobbing.’ Others remark, ‘Look, I have absolutely no idea what this book is about, but when I saw that bowing pose, it’s like seeing Katniss again. This movie will heal trauma from my childhood.’”
Other preview figures we’ve heard about, but Universal hasn’t weighed in on, is DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls Band Together with around $2M off showtimes that began at 2PM. That threequel is looking at a high $20M-low $30M start. The movie also has the lowest RT score in the franchise with critics at 62% fresh. If that preview figure is right, it’s heads and hair above Trolls‘ $900K in Thursday previews, and higher than the Tuesday night previews of Illumination/Universal’s Sing at $1.7M.
TriStar and Spyglass Media have Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving horror film which should do in the teens in its opening weekend while Searchlight’s Taika Waititi comedy Next Goal Wins is looking at single digits. More on those in the AM.