US fans savor box office-chasing 'Hunger Games'

(L-R) Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth

Young US movie fans flocked to midnight screenings of teen cinema phenomenon "The Hunger Games" early Friday, as the movie set out to smash a US box office record this weekend.

The post-apocalyptic film was already in the top three for advance sales, according to online retailer Fandango, which was selling 10 tickets for the movie every second, with 2,500 screenings already sold out before it opened.

"Now I can't wait for the next one, OMG in some points I was actually shaking, I cried a lot, it was pretty enjoyable," said 16-year-old fan Savannah at 2:00 am (0900 GMT) in Los Angeles after the movie.

"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."

Hyped by marketers as a potential new "Twilight" or "Harry Potter," the movie hit screens in France and across much of Europe on Wednesday, followed by a global release on Thursday and Friday.

Emily, a 17-year-old fan at the Los Angeles showing, said the shortening of the book for the big screen was obvious but the adaptation had been a success.

"They had to cut it down, they had to cut a lot of scenes, but I loved what they wanted to be there," she said. "The characters were pretty much how I imagined them."

By Thursday afternoon, the movie was Fandango's third all-time biggest advance ticket seller, behind 2009's "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and last year's series-ending "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."

The film represented an overwhelming 96 percent of Fandango's ticket sales on Thursday, it said, adding that 62 percent of ticket-buyers plan to see the film more than once on the big screen.

Some 89 percent of fans polled by Fandango said they plan to watch the movie on its opening weekend -- fueling speculation the film could vie for a US box office record.

Industry observers have predicted it could well exceed past contenders for best opening weekend of a March release, passing the $116.1 million that "Alice in Wonderland," starring Johnny Depp, sold over 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.

Fans in Los Angeles had high expectations for what could be a blockbusting movie industry franchise.

"A lot of people came for the premiere and this is only the first movie, so the next ones are going to be bigger and bigger," said 18-year-old high school student Natasha McClellan, before the midnight screening.

Teacher Daniela Perry, 32, added: "I'm expecting to cry in this movie. There's some really emotional parts, some kids die. In the book they describe it in such a beautiful way, so I'm expecting to see that."