Box Office: ‘Hunger Games’ Prequel ‘Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Targets $50 Million Debut

“Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is expected to emerge victorious in this weekend’s box office battle royale.

It’s competing against two fellow newcomers, Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s threequel “Trolls Band Together” and Sony’s gory thriller “Thanksgiving,” in this crowded pre-Turkey Day corridor. Despite the stacked race, all three films could work as counter-programming against each other and carve out solid box office receipts. That may not be the case for last weekend’s champion, Disney’s $220 million budgeted superhero sequel “The Marvels.” After a disappointing $47 million debut, the comic book tentpole is bracing for a 50-55% drop, which puts ticket sales around $21 million to $23 million in its sophomore outing.

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With a lackluster turnout expected for “The Marvels,” “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” will lead in North America with at least $50 million in its first weekend of release. Tracking, however, has suggested a wide range of $45 million to $60 million from 3,700 theaters. It’s also opening at the international box office, where the film is expected to bring in roughly $50 million for a global start of around $100 million.

As the first “Hunger Games” movie in eight years and the only one without Jennifer Lawrence’s Girl on Fire, it’s not projected to reach the same heights as the initial saga. The original “Hunger Games” debuted to $152 million in 2012, with the three follow-ups, 2013’s “Catching Fire” ($158 million), 2014’s “Mockingjay Part 1” ($121 million) and 2015’s “Mockingjay Part 2” ($102 million), each hitting triple digits to start. But the newest installment in the dystopian franchise cost $100 million, so box office analysts believe the film is well positioned in its theatrical run.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which is backed by Lionsgate, could benefit from a late-breaking press tour. Days before the SAG strike ended, it was granted an interim agreement that allowed the cast — including Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage and “Euphoria” star Hunter Schafer — the opportunity to promote the film before it landed in theaters. Even though it’s part of a billion-dollar film franchise, it’s a helpful boost in attention for a movie of this size and scale. Animated and scary movies, by comparison, were less affected by the absence of famous faces on late-night talk shows while actors were picketing.

Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” takes place decades before the adventures of Katniss Everdeen. During the 10th Hunger Games, a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth as the eventual tyrannical president of Panem) takes the spotlight as he is chosen to mentor an impoverished tribute named Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler).

Critics have been mixed (it holds a 61% on Rotten Tomatoes), but it’s worth noting that uneven reviews didn’t stop “Mockingjay Part 1” and “Part 2” from continuing the box office success of the two prior (and more well-received) installments. Variety’s Peter Debruge wrote one of the more favorable reviews, saying this installment “feels like a natural extension of the saga, balancing blood sport, endangered young love and a heightened level of political commentary that respects the intelligence of young audiences.”

The end of the SAG strike probably won’t make a difference for “Trolls Band Together,” an animated musical comedy, which looks to collect a decent $30 million to start. The movie, which reunites Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake in an adventure involving an Nsync-esque boy band, has already earned $67 million at the international box office.

“Trolls Band Together” cost $95 million. It’s the sequel to 2020’s “Trolls World Tour,” which roiled the movie theater industry by boldly opening simultaneously on demand while cinemas were closed because of the pandemic. As families were trapped at home, “Trolls World Tour” grossed $47 million at the international box office and another $100 million on streaming platforms in its first few weekends. Though Universal didn’t report the final number of digital transactions, it was evidently more than enough to warrant another star turn for the furry-headed dolls. The first film, 2016’s “Trolls,” opened to $46 million domestically and generated $350 million at the global box office. It also landed an Oscar nomination for Timberlake’s earworm “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

With fewer kid-friendly offerings on the calendar, animated movies like “Elemental” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” have enjoyed impressive box office staying power. However, “Trolls Band Together” doesn’t have too much time before Disney’s cartoon musical “Wish” opens next weekend.

Elsewhere, director Eli Roth’s R-rated slasher “Thanksgiving” is targeting a debut of $12 million to $14 million. It cost just $15 million to produce, so it could make a killing by the end of its box office run. Patrick Dempsey and TikTok star Addison Rae lead the cast of “Thanksgiving,” which centers around a mysterious, axe-wielding killer who terrorizes the residents of Plymouth, Mass. after a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy.

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman praised the film, writing in his review that “‘Thanksgiving’ follows the rules of the slasher genre, but it’s got a more charged and entertainingly hyperbolic atmosphere than these movies used to have.”

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