'Hunger Games' eyes huge US opening weekend

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Opening night of Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games" at the Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium

Opening night of Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games" at the Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium on March 22, in Los Angeles, California. "The Hunger Games" took nearly $20 million in midnight screenings alone Friday in the United States, the seventh best ever, industry tracker Exhibitor Relations said

Teen film phenomenon "The Hunger Games" could make more than $140 million on its opening weekend at the US box office, among the top 10 best debuts ever, industry bible Variety reported.

The post-apocalyptic movie made nearly $20 million in midnight screenings alone after fans stayed up late Thursday to see it first, industry tracker Exhibitor Relations said.

Later in the day, Variety said the movie was on course to earn nearly $70 million on Friday alone, and more than double that over by Sunday night.

The movie made $19.7 million in the midnight screenings. "That's a huge number for an untested property. To come out of a gate that strong is huge," said Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations.

Industry observers have predicted the film could well exceed past contenders for best opening weekend of a March release, passing the $116.1 million made by "Alice in Wonderland," starring Johnny Depp, in its first three days in 2010.

The two biggest-grossing openers were both summer releases: the last Harry Potter film took $169 million in its first weekend, followed by "The Dark Knight" with $158 million, according to figures released by Box Office Mojo.

"The Hunger Games" is based on the thriller of the same name by US novelist Suzanne Collins, part of a trilogy that has sold 30 million copies worldwide, the latest teen publishing phenomenon in the wake of the "Twilight" saga.

Set in Panem, a fictional land born of the ashes of a ruined North America, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence as a young girl forced to fight for her life in a Roman circus-style televised blood sport -- known as "The Hunger Games."

Analysts had forecast the film could make $125 million on its debut weekend, but Variety said it looks stronger than that -- and could even beat the $141 million made by the highest-earning "Twilight" movie, 2009's "New Moon."

"It's all Suzanne Collins," one executive from the film's makers Lionsgate told Variety. "Anybody reads that book, a young girl or young guy, everyone responds overwhelmingly positive to the material. It's a fantastic story."

Bock noted that, while impressive, the midnight box office for "Hunger Games" was less than half that of the last "Harry Potter" movie. "But that series was seven or eight films strong," he said.

"So to do this out of a gate is a marvelous number.

"The tracking has been huge on this film. Fans have been flocking to it. It's very similar to the 'Twilight' phenomenon. But it is doing better than the original 'Twilight.'"