LOS ANGELES, Nov 22 (Reuters) - The "Hunger Games" sequel"Catching Fire" pulled in $25.25 million in U.S. box officesales on Thursday night, 28 percent more than the first movie inthe franchise grossed on the same night, and setting a coursefor big opening weekend sales.
The highly-anticipated Lions Gate Entertainment Corp film opens officially in the United States on Friday, but manytheaters began showing the movie on Thursday.
The films, which star Jennifer Lawrence as heroine KatnissEverdeen, are based on Suzanne Collins' wildly popular novelsabout an oppressive post-apocalyptic society that stages teendeath matches to maintain order among its citizens. In "CatchingFire," Katniss' actions have sparked a revolution that spreadsquickly, and she becomes a beacon for hope.
The first "Hunger Games" movie in 2012 was a smash hit lastyear, collecting $691 million in ticket sales worldwide.
Online ticketing service Fandango said "Catching Fire" wasits top ticket seller for the year, eclipsing "Iron Man 3."
"The demand for tickets is intense, with sales showing nosigns of flagging through the weekend," a Fandango spokesmansaid in an email.
The movie is projected by industry experts to earn between$150 million and $170 million at the U.S. box office in itsopening weekend, according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior mediaanalyst at Rentrak.
"The film has benefited from great reviews, the books are aworldwide phenomenon and very importantly, Jennifer Lawrence thestar, she's an Oscar-winner and her profile has risendramatically since the first film," Dergarabedian said.
"The Hunger Games" follows on the heels of young adultfranchises such as "Harry Potter," which grossed more than $7billion worldwide with eight films, and "Twilight," which tookmore than $3 billion worldwide with five films.
Overseas, "Catching Fire" has already grossed $32 million,Lions Gate said in a statement, adding that most markets openedwith more than double the ticket sales of the first "HungerGames" movie.
The first film collected just 41 percent of its total ticketsales outside the United States and Canada, according to the BoxOffice Mojo website, the third lowest foreign percentage amongthe top 100 films of all time.
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