So another gigantic film franchise now moves among us, and threatens to settle in for the next few years. The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins’s best-seller (the first in a trilogy) opened at the weekend and grossed a total of $215 million in 43 countries, including an astonishing $155 million in the US and a highly respectable £4.9 million in Britain.
Its American opening has only been bettered by last summer’s final Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows Part 2, and the 2008 Batman saga The Dark Knight. Worldwide, these films became respectively the third and eleventh highest grossing films ever. This augurs extremely well for The Hunger Games.
What makes these revenues so remarkable is that the Hunger Games - featuring teenagers in a futuristic, repressive USA, forced to partake in ruthless kill-or-be-killed games for reality TV - isn’t a familiar, pre-existing franchise. In Britain, for instance, the sales momentum behind Collins’s books is still building. This would explain why its UK grosses lag behind those in the States, as would our unseasonably sunny weekend weather, which kept cinemagoers outdoors.
Still, The Hunger Games opened better in Britain than the first film in the Twilight franchise (£2.5 million in 2008). It seems likely to outstrip Twilight – none of the four teen vampire romances ever opened with such a bang.
The other consequence of the film’s eye-popping opening is the confirmation of lead actress Jennifer Lawrence’s instant star status. Lawrence, 21, plays Katniss Everdeen, a bold, resourceful, athletic type who volunteers to enter the deadly games as substitute for her fearful younger sister. Lawrence is in almost every scene of the film: Katniss is more dominant in The Hunger Games than any one character in the Harry Potter or Twilight stories. She’s a great role model for girls: thoughtful, smart, loyal – and expert at archery. She has love interests, but doesn’t mope passively over boys. In the barely-seen Burning Plain (2008) and her great Oscar-nominated turn in Winter’s Bone (2010), Lawrence looked like the real deal. Now she’s proved it.