Sure, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2" topped the charts, becoming the fifth biggest debut of 2015 and the eighth biggest November opening ever. But this time, Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss had an especially difficult challenge: living up to her franchise's lofty standards. By that measure, her arrow fell well short of the mark.
After all, this same weekend last year, "Mockingjay -- Part 1" opened with $121.9 million -- also slightly lower than pundits expected. And the first two installments opened above $150 million. In fact, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" was the biggest movie of 2013, the biggest November opening in history and the biggest debut ever for a movie built around a female star.
So "Mockingjay -- Part 2" had a lot to live up to. Reviews of the new movie, however, were generally good (70 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), and early tracking suggested that the movie would open with about $120 million. And word-of-mouth among this weekend's viewers was strong, too, as measured by an A- grade at CinemaScore. It even picked up some IMAX screens discarded by "Spectre," so there was a likely boost from large-screen ticket surcharges. So to fall $20 million short of expectations makes "Part 2"'s debut all the more shocking.
There'll be lots of second guessing (and making faces like Katniss') over that $20 million shortfall. Did fan disappointment over "Part 1" poison the well for the finale? Did hype for "Spectre" and the upcoming "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" suck all the oxygen out of the multiplex? Was the film's competition stronger than expected?
Not really. Both of the new wide releases challenging Katniss -- "The Night Before" (below) and "Secret In Their Eyes" -- underperformed this weekend. Plus, there are plenty of strong holdover movies that older audiences are still paying to see, including the new James Bond movie (in second place this weekend, with another estimated $14.6 million), "The Martian" (with an estimated $3.7 million in its eighth week), and "Bridge of Spies" (an estimated $1.9 million this weekend, its sixth).
"Secret" follows a pattern this fall of grown-up, awards-bating films turning out to be critical or commercial duds -- or both. "Everest," "Black Mass," "The Walk," "Steve Jobs," "Truth," "Burnt," "Suffragette," "The 33," and "By the Sea" all failed to meet expectations. Only "Spotlight" (which cracked the top 10 this week, reaching eighth place with an estimated $3.6 million as it expanded into 598 theaters) and "Brooklyn" (No. 12, with an estimated $1.2 million as it expanded into 111 theaters) are showing that they could be modest mainstream hits.
For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that this weekend's underperformers will provoke, this was still a very strong week at the box office -- the biggest weekend since July.
This year's total box office is still a shade ahead of where it was this time a year ago and in 2013, the year that holds the box office record. Besides, "Mockingjay -- Part 2," which has already earned $247 million worldwide, certainly will turn a huge profit.
But that profit will probably be $50 to $100 million below expectations. In an industry increasingly defined by and dependent upon global blockbusters, that's a lot of money to leave on the table.
Realizing the stakes are no longer just for survival, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) teams up with her closest friends, including Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick for the ultimate mission. Together, they leave District 13 to liberate the citizens of war-torn Panem and assassinate President Snow, who's obsessed with destroying Katniss. What lies ahead are mortal traps, dangerous enemies and moral choices that will ultimately determine the future of millions. Read More