(EW.com) -- The girl on fire is still burning bright!
Lionsgate's hotly anticipated sequel "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" trounced the competition over its first weekend at the box office, pulling in an estimated $161.1 million. That gross handily beats the $152.5 million opening of "The Hunger Games," which opened in March 2012, and it stands as the best November debut of all time ahead of "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," which bowed with $142.9 million in 2009.
Only three films have ever opened higher than "Catching Fire": "The Avengers" ($207.4 million), "Iron Man 3" ($174.1 million), and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" ($169.2 million).
Many prognosticators (this one included) thought "Catching Fire" might surpass "Iron Man 3's" opening earlier this year, but the superhero sequel had the notable advantage of 3-D ticket sales, and "Catching Fire" fell short. Still, if estimates hold up when final grosses are released tomorrow, "Catching Fire" will have bested "The Dark Knight Rises" as the highest 2-D opener of all time. ("Rises" pulled in $160.9 million during its opening weekend in 2012.)
Even without 3-D appeal, "Catching Fire" played very well on IMAX screens. The large-screen format accounted for $12.6 million of its domestic debut.
"Catching Fire" played to audiences in all four quadrants. Crowds over 25 and under 25 were evenly split, and although the film had more female viewers than males (59 percent vs. 41 percent), more men turned out on opening weekend than for the original "Hunger Games." Females made up 61 percent of that film's opening weekend audience.
The passionate moviegoers who saw the film this weekend awarded the film an enthusiastic "A" CinemaScore grade, which will yield great word-of-mouth as the film enters the lucrative Thanksgiving period next weekend. It seems likely that holiday business will help "Catching Fire" surpass "The Hunger Games'" $408 million domestic total, but we'll have to wait and see whether that actually happens.
Internationally, "Catching Fire" is already doing double the numbers of "The Hunger Games," which pulled in $283.2 million overseas for a $691.2 million worldwide total. "Catching Fire" grossed $146.6 million overseas in its first weekend from 63 territories, giving it a dazzling $307.7 million worldwide opening weekend. That's up 45 percent from "The Hunger Games'" $211.8 million global debut — a whopping $152.5 million of which came from the U.S. and Canada.
"Catching Fire," which stars current It girl (and Oscar winner for last year's "Silver Linings Playbook") Jennifer Lawrence, boasts a relatively slim budget compared to most mega-blockbusters. Lionsgate spent $130 million on the film — a major increase from the original "Hunger Games'" $78 million budget. For context, here are the budgets for untested franchise launchpads that tried to get off the ground earlier this year: "The Lone Ranger" ($215 million), "Jack the Giant Slayer" ($195 million), "Pacific Rim" ($190 million), "White House Down" ($150 million), "Turbo" ($135 million). None of those films earned, in their entire domestic runs, what "Catching Fire" earned in its first two days.
"Thor: The Dark World" spent its third weekend in second place, but fell 61 percent to $14.1 million, giving the $170 million Marvel film a $167.8 million total after three weekends. "The Dark World" will probably surpass "Thor's" $181 million domestic total next weekend, but it now appears unlikely to endure much past the $200 million mark, which is somewhat disappointing given the Norse character's "Avengers" exposure. Fortunately, the superhero film is thriving overseas, where it's earned $381 million after four weekends. Worldwide, the film has now earned $548.8 million.
In third place, Malcolm D. Lee's comedic sequel "The Best Man Holiday" fell by a hefty 58 percent in its second weekend to $12.5 million. Though the film, which stars Taye Diggs, Regina Hall and Terrence Howard, dropped harder than expected — especially given its exemplary "A+" CinemaScore grade — in its second weekend, "Holiday" has already earned $50.4 million total, a great number considering it cost Universal just $17 million to produce. The studio has already ordered another "Best Man" entry.
Disney attempted to counter-program against "Catching Fire" with the Vince Vaughn comedy "Delivery Man" this weekend, but the plan didn't work out. "Delivery Man" delivered just $8.2 million worth of ticket sales. Vaughn, who enjoyed a hot streak from 2005-2009 with films like "Wedding Crashers," "The Break Up" and "Couples Retreat," has struggled at the box office as of late. "Delivery Man" will join "The Dilemma" ($48.5 million total), "The Watch" ($35.4 million) and "The Internship" ($44.7 million) as under-performers on his filmography. Audiences, which were evenly split between men and women, gave the film a "B+" CinemaScore grade.
Fifth place belonged to "Free Birds," which dipped 35 percent to $5.3 million in its fourth weekend. After an under-cooked opening weekend, Relativity's Thanksgiving-themed animation has held up well as the holiday approaches, though it has still earned only $48.6 million against a $55 million budget.
1. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" -- $161.1 million
2. "Thor: The Dark World" -- $14.1 million
3. "The Best Man Holiday" -- $12.5 million
4. "Delivery Man" -- $8.2 million
5. "Free Birds" -- $5.3 million
Two new openers made a splash in limited release. Disney's animated princess movie "Frozen" scored a cool $238,000 from one theater in Los Angeles, while the Judi Dench Oscar-contender "Philomena" drew $133,700 from four locations.
On Wednesday, "Frozen" will move into about 3,600 locations (and provide the only real competition for "Catching Fire" over the Thanksgiving frame), while "Philomena" will expand to about 500 venues. Check back next weekend to see how both films — and newcomers "Black Nativity" and "Homefront" — fare.
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