Lions Gate stokes overseas fire for 'Hunger Games' sequel

Wed Nov 20, 2013 8:05pm EST
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When the sequel "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" debuts worldwide on Friday, industry analysts believe the movie from studio Lions Gate Entertainment will set international box offices ablaze in a bigger way than the first film.

The original "Hunger Games" movie in 2012 became a smash hit with strong sales in the United States and Canada, but pulled in less than half of its box office grosses in overseas markets, a modest foreign take by blockbuster standards. Today's biggest Hollywood movies often earn 50 to 70 percent of their revenue overseas.

To lift overseas sales for "Catching Fire," earlier this month Lions Gate sent actress Jennifer Lawrence and her co-stars on a whirlwind tour with premieres in five European cities in five days, taking the unusual step of promoting the film in several foreign markets before the big U.S. premiere, held on November 18 at the 7,000-seat Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.

By the time the film's scrappy heroine Katniss Everdeen pulls back her archery bow on Friday, "Catching Fire" will be playing in 65 markets around the world including China, a simultaneous opening the studio set to dramatize the movie's debut as a global event.

The first "Hunger Games" film collected just 41 percent of its $691 million in total ticket sales outside the United States and Canada, according to the Box Office Mojo website, the third lowest foreign percentage among the top 100 films of all time.

For "Catching Fire," Lions Gate took deliberate steps to fuel international interest in the films, which are based on Suzanne Collins' novels about an oppressive post-apocalyptic society that stages teen death matches to maintain order among its citizens.

Back in May, Lions Gate was stoking interest with a lavish party at the Cannes Film Festival in France attended by Lawrence and co-star Liam Hemsworth. Behind the scenes, it had secured new distribution deals around the world to maximize sales in each country.

"We're confident that we have positioned 'Catching Fire' as a global phenomenon that will continue the growth of the franchise," Lions Gate CEO Jon Feltheimer told Wall Street analysts on a November 8 conference call. The studio expects the sequel will "significantly outperform" the first movie in overseas markets, Feltheimer said.   Continued...

Cast member Jennifer Lawrence poses at the premiere of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" in Los Angeles, California November 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni