LOS ANGELES, Calif. - "Mockingjay — Part 2," the final "Hunger Games" film, soared to a $101 million opening in its first weekend in theatres, according to Rentrak estimates Sunday. For most films this would be a coup, but "The Hunger Games" had its own records to beat, and this sets a new low for the four-film franchise.
The series starring Jennifer Lawrence kicked off with a bang in March 2012 with a massive $152.5 million weekend — one of the highest openings of all time. "Catching Fire," the second film in the franchise, one-upped that with a $158.1 million debut in November 2013.
Lionsgate split the final book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy into two films, following the precedent of "Twilight" and "Harry Potter."
"Mockingjay — Part 1" opened on this weekend last year to $121.9 million, considered at the time to be a necessary and expected dip, while fans awaited the final installment, which, if it mimicked "Twilight" or "Harry Potter," would have snared the second highest (if not highest) opening in the series.
With that perspective, a franchise low for the final "Hunger Games" film, which cost a reported $160 million to make, was a bit of a surprise. Lionsgate, however, is not disappointed.
"It's a great accomplishment. The overall franchise has grossed over $2 billion worldwide and counting," said David Spitz, co-president of theatrical distribution for Lionsgate. "It's a pretty phenomenal result."
"When a franchise is this popular and this successful in this short a time, expectations run very high," said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for Rentrak. "If we live in a world where a $100 million opening is a disappointment, that's pretty crazy."
To date, there have been only 34 movies in history to open at over $100 million, and each film in "The Hunger Games" series has hit that massive benchmark.
Dergarabedian attributes the showing to a down marketplace. Just two weekends ago, "Spectre," which fell to second place with $14.6 million, failed to live up to "Skyfall's" domestic opening, too.
"Thanksgiving represents a good opportunity for a really strong second weekend," Dergarabedian said.
Katniss didn't have the weekend to herself, either.
The Seth Rogen holiday comedy "The Night Before" opened in fourth place, behind "The Peanuts Movie," with $10.1 million, which was within Sony's expectations. The R-rated film cost about $25 million to produce.
"This is a movie that people love. Opening early seemed like a really good prelude to the Thanksgiving weekend where it will expand beautifully," said Rory Bruer, Sony's president of worldwide distribution. "It's a good start for us."
The Julia Roberts thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes," a remake of the Oscar-winning Argentinian film, also debuted wide this weekend to $6.6 million from 2,392 locations — slightly under expectations.
With this weekend down 11 per cent from last year, it remains to be seen whether 2015 will indeed be a record-breaking $11-billion year as many predicted at the outset. While the box office is up 4.2 per cent from last year, the year to beat is 2013 and this year is tracking less than 1 per cent ahead of that.
"We're in the home stretch," Dergarabedian said. "But remember, we have a little secret weapon in 'Star Wars.'"
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to Rentrak. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1."The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2," $101 million.
2."Spectre," $14.6 million.
3."The Peanuts Movie," $12.8 million.
4."The Night Before," $10.1 million.
5."The Secret in Their Eyes," $6.6 million.
6."Love the Coopers," $3.9 million.
7."The Martian," $3.7 million.
8."Spotlight," $3.6 million.
9."The 33," $2.2 million.
10."Bridge of Spies," $1.9 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ldbahr