A press release from Lionsgate (via Wall Street Journal) on the much anticipated DVD/Blu-ray release of the Hunger Games movie plus news about Suzanne Collins’ involvement in Catching Fire.
As “The Hunger Games” approaches $400 million in domestic box office receipts, the studio behind the film is busy plotting the series’ three remaining installments—and already running into a few hurdles.
In addition to hunting for a new director, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. is working to develop a script for the second film, “Catching Fire.” The studio must also plan “The Hunger Games” home-video release and figure out how to roll out the remaining three films in a way that dovetails with the finale of the “Twilight Saga” franchise, which Lions Gate acquired when it bought Summit Entertainment.
For “Catching Fire,” now in preproduction and expected to hit theaters in fall 2013, Lions Gate—also known as Lionsgate—lost the director of the first film, Gary Ross, who issued a statement earlier this month saying he couldn’t work on the studio’s time table.
Lions Gate, which said at the time that it was sorry Mr. Ross had chosen not to direct the film, is now close to a deal with Francis Lawrence, whose previous projects include “I Am Legend” and “Constantine,” according to people familiar with the matter.
Given the monumental success of the first film in the series, Lions Gate has at stake the potential for billions at the box office and beyond. “The Hunger Games,” which cost $80 million to make, has grossed $360.2 million at the domestic box office during its first five weeks, with world-wide receipts now totaling $577 million. And it became the first film since 2009’s “Avatar” to top the box office for four consecutive weeks.
“It’s an anchor tenant” for the next several years, said Lions Gate Vice Chairman Michael Burns, referring to the series.
That performance may help Lions Gate join the elite ranks of Hollywood’s most powerful entities—the six studios known in the industry as “majors.” Speaking at this week’s CinemaCon trade show, John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, noted that “The Hunger Games” had the biggest March opening ever, at the same time that Lions Gate acquired rival independent studio Summit.
“We may just be witnessing the arrival of a seventh” major movie studio, Mr. Fithian said.
One issue that is under control: All the primary “Hunger Games” cast members are signed up for the entire four-film series, so none are likely to follow Mr. Ross to the exit.
But the studio has yet to finalize a script, now being written by “Slumdog Millionaire” writer Simon Beaufoy. The author of the series, Suzanne Collins, will have input, as she did with the script for the first film.
“I would call it a collaborative effort,” said Rob Friedman, Lions Gate motion picture group co-chair, referring to Ms. Collins’s participation. “Suzanne has always been very, very involved.”
The massive success of “The Hunger Games” will doubtless create momentum for the sequels—a good thing for the studio, since it probably won’t be able to rely on the same marketing playbook it used for the first film.
A central component of the marketing strategy for “The Hunger Games” was boosting book sales, particularly as new titles in the series were rolled out. With no new titles remaining, Lions Gate will focus on pumping up book sales internationally, in hopes that it can draw an even more global viewership for “Catching Fire,” Mr. Friedman said.
The studio will also rely on the DVD release of “The Hunger Games” to fuel anticipation for “Catching Fire,” a strategy it credits with helping make the second “Twilight” film an even bigger success than the first. Due to the first film’s exceptional box office performance, the studio is considering pushing the DVD release to five months after its theatrical opening, as opposed to the usual four-month window, according to people familiar with the matter. That time frame would also allow it to take advantage of back-to-school momentum in the retail environment.
Mr. Friedman vows to be “very aggressive” in pushing DVDs at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other retail outlets.
Still, while plans proceed full-steam-ahead for “Catching Fire,” Mr. Friedman cautioned against looking too far into the future. “We’re still in the afterglow” of “The Hunger Games,” he said, before quickly correcting himself. “We’re still performing great, so we’re still in the glow, I should say.”