WINNER OF THE WEEK: Katniss Everdeen. To the surprise of no one in any of the 12 districts, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire debuted on top of the chart; the only suspense was whether it could outdo its 2012 predecessor. The answer was yes; Catching Fire's estimated $161.2 million did beat the $152.5 million debut of The Hunger Games. It also set a couple of records: the best November opening ever (beating the $142.8 million earned by The Twilight Saga: New Moon three years ago) and the biggest ever opening for a movie with no 3D surcharges (just ahead of the $160.9 million that The Dark Knight Rises earned last year).
Not everyone was smiling in Panem. Some pundits had predicted the movie would open around $175 million, high enough to surpass the $174.1 million premiere of Iron Man 3 to become 2013's biggest debut. Still, it's pretty hard to complain about the proceeds of a film that has already taken in $307.7 million worldwide and seems well on its way to surpassing the $691.2 million the original earned around the world.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Vince Vaughn. It's not like Delivery Man was a terrible counterprogramming idea against Catching Fire. A comedy about a sperm donor who wants to get more involved in the lives of his (as it turns out) 533 children, it might have appealed to older audiences looking for uplifting laughs instead of action thrills and grim political allegory. That said, no one expected it to do more than $15 million worth of business. Turns out, however, that even those predictions were too optimistic by half. It premiered in fourth place with just an estimated $8.2 million. Even with the movie's modest budget (reportedly between $22 and $26 million), Delivery Man is going to have a hard time delivering a profit.
Also taking a hit from Catching Fire were last week's holdovers. Thor: The Dark World dropped 61 percent from a week ago to an estimated $14.1 million and second place. Its three-weekend total of $167.8 million is only slightly ahead of what Catching Fire has earned in three days. In its second weekend, dramedy The Best Man Holiday also fell nearly 60 percent and earned an estimated $12.5 million; the third-place finisher has earned $50.4 million in ten days. Rounding out the top five, cartoon Free Birds dropped 35 percent and earned an estimated $5.3 million, for a four-weekend total of $48.6 million.
SNOW BUSINESS Disney opened its latest animated musical, Frozen, on just one screen before bringing it out wide next week, as it does occasionally. Still, even though it was playing only at the El Capitan in Hollywood, it grossed an astonishing $238,000, according to studio estimates. By contrast, Philomena, the indie drama starring Judi Dench, earned an estimated $133,700 on four screens, for an average per venue of $33,425. That's still an outstanding figure, putting Philomena in Catching Fire territory (the Hunger Games sequel averaged $38,704 per theater), but nowhere near the avalanche of early support for Frozen.
Meanwhile, several indie holdovers expanded this week, taking advantage of holiday-season awards buzz. Typical was Dallas Buyers Club, which added nearly 500 screens (bringing its total up to 666) and saw its sales rise 58 percent to $2.7 million, good enough to crack the top 10. That's an average per screen of $4,159, for a four-week total of $6.5 million. Imagine how well it would have done with a talking snowman.