Box office preview: 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' targeting the best debut of 2013

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Image Credit: Murray Close

Katniss has her bow and arrow aimed squarely at the top of the box office, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will easily open at No. 1. But will Catching Fire break The Dark Knight Rises‘ $160.9 million record as the best 2-D opening of all time? And will it surpass Iron Man 3‘s $174 million opening take as the best of 2013? Well, let’s parse this out.

The original Hunger Games opened to a jaw-dropping $152.5 million in March 2012, a figure that Catching Fire should surpass with ease. Even if it somehow doesn’t, the sequel, which cost Lionsgate about $130 million, would be in fine shape. Overseas revenues are expected to be much more robust than they were for the first film, which took in $691.2 million worldwide.

Domestically, The Hunger Games grossed $408 million total, and in the past year and a half, passion for the dystopian series — and its Oscar-winning star Jennifer Lawrence — has only swelled. Catching Fire is thus tracking substantially better than its predecessor, and it should earn at least $160 million this weekend. It should be noted that the original Hunger Games is by far the most popular book in the trilogy, and some viewers may have been drawn to the first film based on their affection for that book alone. However, the vast majority of viewers left the film with a positive reaction, and strong reviews for Catching Fire mean that much of the biggest target demo (women, who made up 61 percent of The Hunger Games‘ audience) will be coming back for more.

Catching Fire is the number one-seller of advance tickets this year according to Fandango. And that means that, theoretically, it could outshine Iron Man 3, which sold over $174 million worth of tickets in its opening weekend in May. Catching Fire is also nicely positioned to play incredibly well over the Thanksgiving frame, since it appeals to audiences young and old. Marketing has been vibrant, accessible, and genuinely exciting. All that being said, I’m inclined to support exciting box office finishes, so I’m giving this one the slight edge on Iron Man 3 and saying Catching Fire opens with $175 million.

Meanwhile, the week’s other newcomer, Disney’s $22 million Vince Vaughn dramedy Delivery Man, isn’t expected to deliver much at the box office. Marketing for the film, about a man who discovers his sperm donations have resulted in 500 children, has been uneven in tone and, frankly, a little icky for a potential family destination. The tepidly received Delivery Man may only achieve a $10 million opening weekend.

Predictions for Nov. 22-24:
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – $175 million
2. The Best Man Holiday – $16.5 million
3. Thor: The Dark World – $15.5 million
4. Delivery Man – $10 million
5. Last Vegas – $6 million

How big do you think Catching Fire will be? Stay tuned to EW for full coverage this weekend.

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