“The Hunger Games” opens Friday, tracking toward an opening weekend ticket take of perhaps more than $100 million. The movie, about a future dystopia that pits teens in televised fights to the death, cost around $80 million to make.
Lionsgate, home to the “Saw” horror franchise, has seen rough times lately. It weathered a takeover bid by Carl Icahn and its stock price dropped 45 percent in a four-year period, according to Bloomberg. But it recently gained muscle when it bought Summit, the studio mother of the “Twilight” movies. Those films, based, like “The Hunger Games, on a popular series of books, earned $2.3 billion, a figure “Games” hopes to match or even surpass.
So how do you start to make a film. First you buy a story, or the rights to a book the underlying rights. This usually happens before anyone really knows about it. In the case of The Hunger Games Lionsgate secured the rights to Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” in 2009 before it became a household name.
“The Hunger Games,” the first of a trilogy, had sold about 250,000 copies when Lionsgate acquired it. By the time the film went into production last May, the three novels had sold a combined 8 million. When production wrapped in September, the total had climbed to 12 million. The New York Times reported Sunday that there are now 24 million copies in print.
Shooting in North Carolina gave “The Hunger Games” a 25 percent rebate on salaries for resident cast and crew and what the film spent on taxable items in the state, according to the Charlotte Observer. The film was finished for under the widely reported $80 million; $12 million in subsidies helped get it there, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The crew also made use of a 2.4 million-square foot abandoned factory and part of a national forest.
The studio reportedly locked up lead actress Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone,” “X-Men: First Class”), who plays the heroine Katniss Everdeen, for $500,000 for the first film, according to the Hollywood Reporter. That’s in the neighborhood of what Kristen Stewart got for the first “Twilight.” Lawrence and her costars, Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) and Liam Hemsworth (Gale), signed on the dotted line for the film adaptations of all three books before production began on the first. Of course there are financial incentives based on each film’s success.
Director Gary Ross, who wrote the film with Billy Ray and Collins, took the studio’s streamlined mission to heart. Great storytelling is great story telling.
Even the marketing campaign — which cost a mere $45 million, The New York Times reported — cost less than half of what most high-profile blockbusters chew up. With an eye on the bottom line and expectations sky-high, “The Hunger Games” appears headed for franchise nirvana.