In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Moviegoers were still feeling angry this Easter Weekend, keeping Anger Management at the top of the box office with a passionate $25.6 million.*
Holes dug into second place with a surprisingly solid $17.1 million, while Malibu's Most Wanted was third with $14.3 million.
Bulletproof Monk barely made its way into fourth place with a small take of $8.6 million; Phone Booth phoned into fifth place with $5.6 million.
Despite Anger Management's impressive take, the Top 12 films this week totaled $90.2 million--down more than three percent from last year's $93 million. Business, meanwhile, was up over 7 percent from the previous weekend's $84.2 million.
THE TOP TEN
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated comedy Anger Management, which became the best April opener of all time when it debuted last week, held onto the No. 1 spot for the second week in a row. The laffer, which stars Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson managed a still strong ESTIMATED $25.6 million (-39%) box office take at 3,570 theaters (+19 theaters, $7,171 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $80.2 million, headed for the $100 million mark.
Directed by Peter Segal, it also stars Marisa Tomei and John Turturro.
Buena Vista's PG rated teen comedy Holes debuted in second place with an impressive ESTIMATED $17.1 million at 2,331 theaters. Holes' $7,336 average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
The pic, based on Louis Sachar's award-winning children's novel, focuses on the adventures of troubled teens forced to dig holes in a dry lakebed.
Directed by Andrew Davis, it stars Rick Fox, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson and Shia LeBeouf.
"Holes was sort of off the radar," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations told The Associated Press. "But kids know this book, and there's really no movies out there for kids right now. Almost every time when there's a void in the marketplace for family films, all of a sudden one pops up, and families rush out."
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated comedy Malibu's Most Wanted debuted in third place with a "rizz-eal" ESTIMATED $13.1 million at 2,503 theaters with a high $5,250 per theater average.
The film revolves around a white wannabe rapper named B-Rad who thinks he is the dopest thing Malibu has to offer.
Directed by John P. Whitesell, it stars Jamie Kennedy, Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson.
MGM's PG-13 rated martial arts pic Bulletproof Monk debuted at No. 4 despite a head start on the competition. Bulletproof Monk, which opened Wednesday, took in a disappointing ESTIMATED $8.6 million at 2,955 theaters with a $2,910 per theater average.
The film revolves around a Tibetan monk charged with protecting a sacred scroll.
Directed by Paul Hunter, it stars Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott.
Twentieth Century Fox's R rated sniper thriller Phone Booth fell three rungs to fifth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $5.6 million (-26%) at 2,448 theaters (-41 theaters, $2,318 per theater). Its cume is approximately $35.1 million.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, it stars Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Warner Brother's PG rated What a Girl Wants dropped three places to third in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-24%) at 2,930 theaters (-34 theaters, $1,640 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.5 million.
Directed by Dennie Gordon, it stars Amanda Bynes, Kelly Preston and Colin Firth.
Buena Vista's PG-13 rated comedy Bringing Down the House continued to show strong legs although it dropped from fourth to seventh place in its seventh week of release with an ESTIMATED $3.3 million (-27%) at 2,284 theaters (-546 theaters, $1,445 per theater). Its cume is approximately $122.7 million.
Directed by Adam Shankman, it stars Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.
New Line Cinema's R rated cop drama A Man Apart fell from fifth to eighth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-42%) at 2,174 theaters (-321 theaters, $1,196 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.5 million.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, it stars Vin Diesel and Larenz Tate.
In its 17th week of release, Miramax's PG-13 rated musical Chicago continued its run in the Top Ten at ninth place with an ESTIMATED $2.4 million (-23%) at 21,711 theaters (-403 theaters, $1,452 per theater). Its cume is approximately $160.7 million.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
Rounding out the Top Ten is Lions Gate's R rated House of 1,000 Corpses. The horror thriller fell from seventh to tenth in its second week with an ESTIMATED $2.4 million (-31%) at 847 theaters (+252 theaters, $2,834 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.9 million.
Directed by Rob Zombie, it stars Karen Black, Sid Haig and Jeanne Carmen.
This weekend also saw the arrival of two limited-release films, A Mighty Wind and Chasing Papi.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated "mockumentary" A Mighty Wind opened with an ESTIMATED $2.2 in 133 theaters, with a whopping $16,541 per theater average.
The film is a spoof about a reunion concert of '60s folk groups.
Directed by Christopher Guest, it stars Bob Balaban, Ed Begley, Jr, Jennifer Coolidge, Paul Dooley and Eugene Levy.
Warner plans to expand A Mighty Wind to over 500 theaters by early May.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG rated romantic comedy Chasing Papi opened with an ESTIMATED $2.2 million at 585 theaters with a $3,778 per theater average.
The film revolves around three young women who discover they are in love with the same man.
Directed by Linda Mendoza, it stars Jaci Velasquez, Roselyn Sanchez, Sofia Vergara and Eduardo Verastequi.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $90.2 million, up 7.07 percent from last week when they totaled $84.2 million.
The Top 12 were down only 3.08 percent from last year when they totaled $93 million.
Last year, Universal's PG-13 rated The Scorpion King premiered at the top of the box office with $36 million at 3,444 theaters ($10,475 per theater); Paramount's R rated Changing Lanes came in second in its second week of release with $11 million at 2,642 theaters ($4,189 per theater); and Warner Brother's R rated Murder by Numbers debuted in third with $9.3 million at 2,663 theaters ($3,495 per theater).
Mr. Deeds really went to town this weekend, inheriting $37.6 million at the box office.
Lilo & Stitch held on in second place with an animated $22.2 million. Minority Report slipped to third with $21.6 million.
While Minority beat Lilo by $417,000 last weekend, after a full week in theaters Lilo was leading by about $2 million in cumulative gross. Now after 10 days, Lilo is $4.3 million ahead of Minority.
Scooby-Doo took fourth place with $12.2 million, bringing its cume to nearly $124 million. The Bourne Identity was fifth with $10.8 million.
The weekend's other wide opening, Hey Arnold! The Movie, had nothing to shout about in sixth place with $6 million.
Ticket sales were up nearly 13 percent from this weekend last year. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- took in $138.1 million versus last year's $122.6 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia and New Line's PG-13 rated comedy Mr. Deeds kicked off in first place, laughing all the way to the bank with an ESTIMATED $37.6 million at 3,231 theaters ($11,637 per theater).
Directed by Steven Brill, it stars Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder. It was produced by Sid Ganis and Jack Giarraputo and executive produced by Sandler and Joseph M. Caracciolo.
Mr. Deeds' average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
"We're delighted," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"This is the kind of high powered opening that Adam is known for, particularly in the summer. It's very close to what The Waterboy (the weekend of Nov. 6-8, 1998 opened to) $39.4 million. It went on to do $161 million (in domestic theaters). And it's not that far from Big Daddy, which (the weekend of June 25-27, 1999 opened to) $41.5 million and went on to do $163.5 million."
In addition to those comparisons, another interesting comparison that can be made from the record books is to Sandler's last film, New Line's Little Nicky. After opening to a quiet $16.1 million the weekend of Nov. 10-12, 2000, it wound up with a domestic theatrical cume of just $39.4 million -- not much more than Deeds took in for its first weekend. With Columbia's Deeds opening Sandler is clearly back on the box office fast track.
"Adam is really a franchise in and of himself," Blake said, noting that Deeds' production cost was a relatively modest -- at least by big summer movie standards -- $55 million.
"Obviously, that's a number you can feel really good about," Blake added. "What we feel even better about is that we've got his next three movies. His animated film, Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights, which opens at Thanksgiving, had a teaser trailer attached to Mr. Deeds. Punch-Drunk Love, which is the Revolution film that got such good notices at Cannes, will be a year-end release. And next June for another big summer release there's Revolution's film Anger Management with Jack Nicholson (starring with Sandler). So not only is (Adam Sandler) a great business to be in, we're in it pretty heavily."
Reflecting on Sony's sizzling hot summer at the box office, Blake also pointed out that Spider-Man, which in its ninth week has just dropped out of the Top Ten, is now at about $395.7 million and on its way to "somewhere between $400-410 million" in domestic theaters.
Hollywood handicappers are talking about Spider-Man as a likely bet to be the year's biggest grossing film. "I don't think there's going to be any question (of that)," Blake observed. "With all due respect, as good as the rest of the market is, I don't see any $400 million (films out there)."
Sony's summer success should get its next major shot in the arm from Columbia's launch this Wednesday (July 3) of Men In Black II at about 3,300 theaters and 6,000 or more screens. The film's 88 minute running time (including about seven minutes of end credits) will enable theaters to run it five or six times a day, greatly enhancing its grossing potential.
The original Men In Black's first weekend in theaters was July 4-6, 1997 with $51.07 million at 3,020 theaters ($16,910 per theater). With July Fourth falling on a Friday that year, the film's opening gave it a six day cume of $84.1 million. It went on to gross $250.1 million in domestic theaters.
"We're certainly opening on very close to 6,000 screens -- probably over 6,000 by Monday," Blake said. "Well, 6,000 screens times five or six shows a day, that's pretty good! You've got to figure you've got (at least) 30,000 shows a day no matter how you place it. I think it's going to be fun. It should be a good weekend for us."
Beyond Men In Black II, Sony has another high profile sequel on deck in Stuart Little 2, opening July 19. The first Stuart Little opened to $15 million the weekend of Dec. 17-19, 1999 and went on to gross $140 million in domestic theaters.
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated family appeal feature Lilo & Stitch showed strong legs in its second week, holding on to second place with an ESTIMATED $22.2 million (-37%) at 3,222 theaters (+31 theaters; $6,899 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77.8 million.
Written and directed by Chris Sanders, it was produced by Clark Spencer. Its original score is by Alan Silvestri.
20th Century Fox and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy thriller Minority Report tumbled two rungs in its second week to third place with a less thrilling ESTIMATED $21.63 million (-39%) at 3,001 theaters (theater count unchanged; $7,208 per theater). Its cume is approximately $73.5 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Tom Cruise.
WARNER Bros.' PG rated family comedy Scooby-Doo slid one peg to fourth place in its third week with a calmer ESTIMATED $12.22 million (-50%) at 3,447 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,545 per theater). Its cume is approximately $123.8 million.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini and Rowan Atkinson.
Universal's PG-13 espionage thriller The Bourne Identity fell one rung to fifth place in its third week with an okay ESTIMATED $10.81 million (-28%)) at 2,663 theaters (+20 theaters; $4,060 per theater). Its cume is approximately $72.5 million, heading for $85 million.
Bourne had the lowest percentage drop of any film in the Top Ten this weekend.
Paramount and Nickelodeon's PG rated animated feature Hey Arnold! The Movie arrived in sixth place to a dull ESTIMATED $6.0 million at 2,527 theaters ($2,374 per theater).
Directed by Tuck Tucker, the film is based on the hit Nickelodeon cartoon series. With the movie having reportedly cost only about $4 million to make, neither Paramount nor Nickelodeon should be hurt by its not-so-lively launch.
"We're a little disappointed," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "It's below our expectations, but we didn't have a great deal invested in the film either. It's not like we're going to be hurt financially, but certainly we were expecting a great deal more and had anticipated making a lot of money versus sort of getting out of it even."
Paramount's PG-13 rated thriller The Sum Of All Fears dropped two slots to seventh place in its fifth week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $4.83 million (-38%) at 2,486 theaters (-551 theaters; $1,941 per theater). Its cume is approximately $105.3 million, heading for $120-125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and produced by Mace Neufeld, it stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
Warner Bros. and Gaylord Films' PG-13 rated drama Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood slid one rung in its fourth week to eighth place with an unexciting ESTIMATED $4.01 million (-33%) at 2,187 theaters (-143 theaters; $1,851 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.3 million.
Directed by Callie Khouri, it stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus MacFadyen and Maggie Smith.
MGM's R rated World War II drama Windtalkers plunged three spots to ninth place in its third week with a slow ESTIMATED $3.6 million (-45%) at 2,529 theaters (-369 theaters; $1,473 per theatre). Its cume is approximately $33.3 million.
Directed by John Woo, it stars Nicolas Cage.
Rounding out the Top Ten (but virtually tied for ninth place) was 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm's PG rated franchise installment Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, down one orbit in its seventh week with a quiet ESTIMATED $3.56 million (-31%) at 1,801 theaters (-306 theaters; $1,977 per theater). Its cume is approximately $286.1 million, heading for $300 million in domestic theaters.
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace took in $431.1 million in domestic theaters. Its worldwide total (domestic plus international) was $923 million.
Directed by George Lucas, it stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Lions Gate Films' R rated comedy Lovely & Amazing to a hopeful ESTIMATED $96,000 at 8 theaters in New York and Los Angeles ($12,000 per theater).
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, it stars Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn and Emily Mortimer.
"We expand July 19 to about 125 screens for the next wave," Lions Gate president Tom Ortenberg said Sunday morning.
United Artists' R rated satiric comedy Pumpkin opened via MGM Distribution to a not very funny ESTIMATED $30,000 at 8 theaters ($3,776 per theater).
Directed by Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams, it stars Christina Ricci, Hank Harris and Brenda Blethyn.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated comedy The First $20 Million Is Always The Hardest kicked off poorly, finding that for it the first $20,000 is the hardest. The film took in only an ESTIMATED $2,354 at 2 theaters in Los Angeles ($1,177 per theater).
Directed by Mick Jackson, it stars Adam Garcia, Rosario Dawson, Jake Busey and Enrico Colantoni.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding widened again via IFC Films in its 11th week with a still sexy ESTIMATED $1.9 million (+9%) at 493 theaters (+49 theaters; $3,930 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.3 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Miramax's PG rated comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest added theaters in its sixth week with an unimportant ESTIMATED $0.46 million (-14%) at 208 theaters (+7 theaters; $2,187 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.9 million.
Directed by Oliver Parker, it stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.
Think Film's R rated dark comedy The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys went wider in its third week with an unexceptional ESTIMATED $0.2 million at 125 theaters (+49 theaters; $1,810 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.6 million.
Directed by Peter Care, it stars Kieran Culkin.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $138.12 million, up 12.63 percent from last year when they totaled $122.65 million.
Key films were down about 12.43 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $157.73 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of A.I. Artificial Intelligence was first with $29.35 million at 3,242 theaters ($9,054 per theater); and Universal's second week of The Fast and the Furious was second with $20.05 million at 2,723 theaters ($7,365 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $49.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $59.8 million.