Lionsgate Stockholders Bank on THE HUNGER GAMES to Turn a Profit; Film Must Make $100 Million to Justify Sequels

     November 9, 2011

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Here are some numbers for you to chew on: The Twilight Saga has so far accumulated over $2.3 billion in global box office and DVD revenue (with two more films to be released) and the eight-movie Harry Potter series has amassed over a whopping $7.7 billion in global box office revenue alone. Lionsgate Entertainment is banking on The Hunger Games four-film series potential to join that elite class and reverse the four-year downward trend that has seen a 45% drop in stock value. Regarding a franchise earnings prediction between $220 million and $733 million, analyst James Marsh had this to say:

The Hunger Games could be the biggest catalyst for Lions Gate’s profits and share price during the next decade. It could be a game changer for them.”

The first installment of The Hunger Games comes in at a cost of $80 million (Lionsgate’s most expensive solo production ever) and stars Oscar-nominee Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a teenage gladiator in a dystopian future. The Hunger Games opens on March 23, 2012 and with it rests the hopes of Lionsgate Entertainment. Hit the jump for much more.

lionsgate-logoAn exhaustive report from Bloomberg chronicles the reaction of Lionsgate shareholders after the independent studio posted another quarter loss. Studio heads Jon Feltheimer and Michael Burns responded by pointing out that they had released one of its highest-grossing films (The Expendables) the year prior and spent much of 2010 fighting off a hostile takeover by billionaire Carl Icahn. With the sequel, The Expendables 2 currently filming, it’s obvious that Lionsgate is banking on franchise successes to pull them out of the hole.

As far as franchises go, the “Harry Potter” series of novels has sold over 450 million copies to date. Compare that to the approximate 115 million for the “Twilight” saga and roughly 16 million (in the US) for Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy. Now, of course, the movies will generate interest in the books; publisher Scholastic has announced new book title tie-ins with the release of the movie. But will it be enough?

Lionsgate has banked on tentpole projects and breakout stars before: Jason Momoa in Conan the Barbarian, pre-Bane Tom Hardy in Warrior, and Taylor Lautner in Abduction. Needless to say, those projects haven’t been the boom the studio had predicted. Because of their track record, analyst David Miller cautions optimistic buy-up of Lionsgate stock:

Conan was an unmitigated disaster. If you follow this company closely, you’ll see it’s always the next movie that becomes the reason to buy the stock. If Hunger Games doesn’t work, the stock is going to take a big hit.”

Lionsgate head Feltheimer agrees:

The Hunger Games must hit $100 million in domestic box office sales to justify making sequels. “I’m not too concerned we won’t get to that kind of number.”

hunger-games-movie-image-josh-hutcherson-02The feature film adaptation of the second book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, Catching Fire, already has a release date of November 2013, but it’s clear that the fate of the franchise still rests with this first film. Regarding Lawrence’s co-stars Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, Feltheimer is hoping they’ll be part of the draw. As he points to the two stars on a cover of Entertainment Weekly, he says “There’s just too much heat for this property around the world.”

While the studio heads seem to understand the growing popularity of the book franchise, a popular book does not always translate into a successful series of films. I need only point to Christopher Paolini’s Eragon as an example, although the author just released the final book in his “Inheritance” cycle. Others worth mentioning are The Golden Compass or The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. At least Alli Shearmur, Lionsgate’s president of movie production, seems to have the feel of the source material down:

“We weren’t going to let the violence be gratuitous or the selling point of the franchise,” says Shearmur, who oversaw the Bourne series starring Matt Damon while she was an executive at Universal Pictures Ltd. in 2002. “This is an emotional story about a young girl who sacrifices everything and sets off a revolution she never intended.”

While the book series features some pretty brutal deaths of some very young characters, to turn the property into a bloodbath would be missing the point. Perhaps there’s hope for them yet. Check out our continuing coverage on The Hunger Games here.

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