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411 Box Office Report: Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Takes #1 With $44 Million

November 19, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Image Credit: Murray Close/Lionsgate

The Hunger Games franchise returned to the top of the box office this weekend with The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. Lionsgate’s prequel to their hit franchise claimed the #1 spot with a $44 million start. That is more or less what projections were for the film coming into the weekend, and while it marks the lowest start of the franchise by a very wide margin (behind The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2’s $102.7 million opening), that’s a note that needs some severe context.

Yes, there’s no doubt that Songbirds & Snakes is not hitting the heights that the franchise previously reached with Jennifer Lawrence at the lead. But this is also a very different era of the box office – and the franchise – than the previous films. The first four films were all part of the main franchise and were based on the original trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins. It’s been eight years since those films, and the young adult dystopian franchise era is pretty much over. Add into that the fact that prequels rarely reach the heights of their predecessors and that star Rachel Zegler, while she’s on the rise, does not have the star power Lawrence had when the first films opened. (Lawrence had franchise experience from X-Men: First Class).

It doesn’t help that while Songbirds & Snakes is not hated, it’s not a critical smash. Critics’ reviews are aggregated at 61% at Rotten Tomatoes, which is just barely fresh. That means audiences’ minds were likely not changed regarding whether to see the film from the critical consensus. The better news is that word of mouth is great. The RT audience score is at 91%, while the CinemaScore is a solid B+.

Lionsgate would obviously have been happy with a higher total for the film, but they’re not too upset. The movie is poised to do well with the strong word of mouth, as well as the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, which is always good for holds. The film has added $54.5 million overseas for a $98.5 million worldwide first weekend against a $100 million production budget. As it stands, the film should prove to be profitable for the studio. The domestic total is likely to top $125 million and could go higher if the word of mouth really sticks.

Trolls Band Together took the #2 spot with an also-solid $30.6 million opening. That number is a bit below the $46.6 opening of the first film; we don’t have a comparison point for the second film, which opened digitally during the pandemic. But it is a decent start for a $95 million-budgeted family film that should have some good holds in successive weeks.

The Trolls franchise has always been a bit of a middle-of-the-road performer for Universal, earning profit but not necessarily becoming massive hits. That looks to be the case for Band Together, which came into the weekend with a 60% RT aggregated score. Word of mouth and Thanksgiving are again the keys here, with the film scoring an A CinemaScore and a 92% RT audience rating. Those should propel the film into some strong box office legs.

Thus far Trolls Band Together has grossed $31.8 million domestically (having opened at the start of the day on Thursday) and $108.1 million worldwide. The film hit international markets last month in several cases. It should be able to make it to the $110 million range or so domestically, enough for a profitable venture.

The Marvels followed up its disappointing start with a heavy drop, slipping an MCU-worst 78% in its second weekend. The superhero film brought in $10.2 million to bring its totals to $65 million domestically and $161.3 million worldwide. These are not good numbers for a film that cost $220 million to produce once tax credits were factored in. The film will get a much-needed benefit from the coming week but is now looking at around $100 million domestically, a money loser and a blemish by MCU standards.

Eli Roth returned to horror with Thanksgiving and reaped the benefits. The slasher film, which is based on the faux trailer from 2008’s Grindhouse, took in $10.2 million to put it in a virtual tie with The Marvels in the estimates. (Thanksgiving is more likely to end up #4 due to opening weekend estimates tending to have a slightly larger dropoff compared with final results than successive weeks.)

Thanksgiving marks Roth’s best horror opening since the original Hostel opened to $19.6 million all the way back in 2006. Roth’s horror resume tends to be popular among his devoted fanbase but has had trouble breaking out into the mainstream; his most successful film to date was 2018’s The House with a Clock In Its Walls which opened to $26.6 million on its way to a $68.5 million domestic gross and $131.5 million worldwide.

With Thanksgiving, Roth was able to tap into the recent rise in horror box office, notably the return of slashers with films like the new Scream sequels, the new Halloween trilogy, Ti West’s X and more. It’s also notable that this is by far Roth’s best-reviewed film to date at a stellar 81%, which is also very high for the slasher genre. Audiences are also liking it well enough with a B- CinemaScore (good for horror) and a 79% RT audience score.

Thanksgiving has added $2.4 million overseas for a $12.6 million worldwide start. The overseas box office being somewhat muted is expected considering it’s built around an American holiday. But with a $15 million budget, this one is doing fine. It should be able to hit around $35 million to $40 million domestically and could conceivably kickstart a new franchise.

Five Nights At Freddy’s was down 61% in its fourth weekend with $3.5 million. That brings the video game adaptation to $132.6 million domestically and $271.8 million worldwide, big numbers against a $20 million budget. It should finish out with around $145 million in the US, making it quite the hit.

Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers jumped to just under 1,500 theaters and held well as a result, down just 16% to $2.7 million. The period dramedy is capitalizing on its buzz with a $8.4 million gross, decent thus far in limited release against a $30 million budget. It should continue to play well, especially considering the holiday aspects of the film, and could reach as high as $25 million in the US. That’s not a success in theaters of course, but this is a film made to find profit on home viewing.

Taika Waititi’s latest film opened quietly, as Next Goal Wins brought in just $2.5 million. That’s well below the mid-single digits that most were expecting it to do. The soccer comedy had very little buzz going for it, with a 41% RT aggregated score that indicated a collected critical shrug. Word of mouth is solid with a B+ CinemaScore, but this one isn’t likely to get too far above $8 million domestically. The budget was $14 million so this will need to do decently overseas when it starts opening there to bring in some profit.

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is near the end of its run and slipped at last, down 61% to $2.4 million in its sixth weekend. The concert film has now grossed $175.3 million domestically and $244.2 million worldwide, against a budget of just $10 million to $20 million. The film will close out around $180 million.

Priscilla was down 49% in its fourth weekend to bring in $2.3 million. The biopic has a total of $17 million against a $20 million budget and should end its run at around $25 million domestically.

Killers of the Flower Moon fell 58% in its fifth weekend to gross $1.9 million. The Martin Scorsese western is a money loser in theaters with $63.6 million domestically and $145.8 million against a $200 million budget – again, not something Apple was overly concerned about as it’s good advertising for Apple TV+ and the like – and will likely end its domestic run at around $70 million.

Disney will be back on top next weekend as the animated Wish is looking to bring in around $50 million. Ridley Scott also returns to theaters with his biopic Napoleon, which is targeting about $22 million or so.

BOX OFFICE TOP TEN (Three-Day Domestic Numbers)
1. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes – $44 million ($44 million total, $98.5 million WW)
2. Trolls Band Together – $30.6 million ($31.8 million total, $108.1 million WW)
3. The Marvels – $10.2 million ($65 million total, $161.3 million WW)
4. Thanksgiving – $10.2 million ($10.2 million total, $12.6 million WW)
5. Five Nights At Freddy’s – $3.5 million ($132.6 million total, $271.8 million WW)
6. The Holdovers – $2.7 million ($8.4 million total, $8.4 million WW)
7. Next Goal Wins – $2.5 million ($2.5 million total, $2.5 million WW)
8. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour – $2.4 million ($175.3 million total, $244.2 million WW)
9. Priscilla – $2.3 million ($17 million total, $17 million WW)
10. Killers Of The Flower Moon – $1.9 million ($63.6 million total, $145.8 million WW)