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‘Hunger Games’ easily defeats 2 new foes at box office

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Despite the arrival of new foes at the multiplex, “The Hunger Games” survived another weekend in the No. 1 position at the domestic box office and surged past the quarter-billion-dollar mark after just 10 days in release.

The movie starring Jennifer Lawrence as heroine Katniss Everdeen collected $61.1 million this weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Lionsgate, bringing its total to $251 million in the U.S. and Canada.

“The Hunger Games” easily picked off two new films, the 3-D sequel “Wrath of the Titans” and “Mirror Mirror,” a modern spin on the Snow White fairy tale. “Wrath” debuted with $34.2 million — about half as much as the original “Clash of the Titans” opened with two years ago — while “Mirror Mirror” grossed $19 million.

Ticket sales were up 24 percent this weekend compared with the same three-day period in 2011, continuing a strong year at the box office. Receipts are up about 20 percent this year, while attendance has jumped 23 percent.

At its current rate, “The Hunger Games” seems likely to collect at least $350 million domestically. Overseas, the film has now taken in $113.9 million.

The adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel about teens battling to the death saw its ticket sales fall 60 percent from opening weekend — a decent hold for a film that many fans rushed out to see upon its premiere. The decline in receipts was partially due to the fact that the movie was no longer playing in 268 Imax theaters. Because “Wrath of the Titans” was already booked in Imax locations, “Hunger Games” could remain on the large-format screens for only a week. (“Wrath” grossed $4.7 million domestically from Imax screenings, compared with the $10.6 million “Hunger Games” collected from Imax theaters last weekend.)

Those who saw “Wrath” this weekend assigned it an average grade of B-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore — slightly better than the B that 2010’s “Clash of the Titans” received. While the original was criticized for its last-minute 3-D conversion, audiences still liked it, propelling the film to worldwide ticket sales of $493 million. The new film again stars Sam Worthington as Perseus, a half-god, half-human battling against the wrath of his brother and an array of angry beasts.

Not surprisingly, the follow-up attracted a large male contingent — two thirds of those who saw the PG-13 film were male. Roughly 65 percent of “Wrath” moviegoers — about 55 percent of whom were older than 25 — were willing to shell out a few extra bucks to see the film in 3-D.

“Wrath” was co-financed by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures for about $150 million — $25 million more than it cost to produce the original, which opened with $61.2 million.

Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution, said the comparison between the opening of the first and second films was not a fair one because the original opened on Good Friday, when more teenagers were on spring break. “We made a decision to open a week before the holiday this time and generate positive word-of-mouth, since we had issues with the last one regarding the 3-D conversion,” Fellman said. “We’re gonna get there — we’re just gonna get there in a different way.”

The original ended up making 67 percent of its overall business abroad, and the sequel seems destined to follow that trajectory. This weekend, “Wrath” opened in 60 foreign markets and grossed $78 million.

Audiences liked “Mirror Mirror” as much as “Wrath,” giving it the same B-plus grade. The PG-rated film, produced and distributed by Relativity Media, attracted a far different demographic — 60 percent of attendees were families with children. Like Warner Bros., Relativity executives are hopeful that the film will perform well in the coming weeks when more children are out of school.

“We would have liked a higher number, but we’re in a great position to play into the holidays,” said Kyle Davies, Relativity’s president of theatrical distribution. “I think ‘The Hunger Games’ is just a phenomenon that affected everybody. It’s playing to a wide variety of audiences, and its success impacted us.”

Relativity spent more money to create “Mirror Mirror” than it has any other film — about $100 million, according to a person close to the production who was not authorized to speak publicly. A Relativity spokesperson said the final cost was $85 million.

Directed by “Immortals” filmmaker Tarsem Singh, the fairy tale stars newcomer Lily Collins as the iconic princess attempting to escape her tyrannical stepmother, an evil queen played by Julia Roberts. In June, another Snow White adaptation will hit theaters: Universal’s more action-driven “Snow White and the Huntsman,” featuring Kristen Stewart as Snow White.

“Mirror Mirror” is the latest box office dud for Roberts, who seems to be losing her pull with American moviegoers. With the exception of “Eat Pray Love,” the 2010 film based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular memoir, the actress has appeared in a string of flops including “Larry Crowne,” “Duplicity” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Her last released film, the independent “Fireflies in the Garden,” sat on the shelf for four years and didn’t even crack the $1 million mark when it arrived in U.S. theaters in October.

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