Catching Fire and Frozen: Hollywood Gives Thanks for Girl Power

Katniss and the Disney princesses light up the long holiday weekend

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If the millions who crowded movie theaters this Thanksgiving weekend also went shopping, then the most popular gift purchases should have been the dolls for Katniss Everdeen ($29.95 retail, and looking hardly at all like Jennifer Lawrence) and for Disney’s Anna and Elsa ($16.95 each).

Katniss’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen, the first Disney animated feature with two princess heroines, dominated the turkey-time box office, earning more than $200 million between them in North American theaters over the five-day holiday, according to preliminary studio estimates. Hollywood, which is used to getting blockbuster numbers from male superheroes, should start acknowledging the flexed muscle of girl power — perhaps by humming a refrain of “Oh, you beautiful dolls.”

[MONDAY UPDATE: According to the final weekend figures issued today, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire earned $74.2 million, down $320,000 from its Sunday estimate, and Frozen took in $67.4 million, up nearly $700,000. In a close call further down the list, Black Nativity and Philomena switched eighth and ninth places, the former grossing $3,669,000, the latter $3,676,000. In limited release, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom earned $84,283, not thr reported $100,300.]

(MORE: 13 Disney Princesses and the Actresses Who Voiced Them)

Catching Fire, second in the series of films from Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young-adult trilogy, continued its triumphal march through the multiplexes by earning $74.5 million from Friday to Sunday and $110.1 million over the five-day holiday, for a 10-day total of $296.5 million. That’s nearly $50 million more than The Hunger Games had managed for the same number of days in theaters, though the first movie’s second week was in early spring, not the late-November tryptophan binge of eating, shopping and moviegoing.

(MORE: Richard Corliss’s review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

And unlike its predecessor, Catching Fire is torching the foreign box office. The Hunger Games took in $283.3 million in its entire run abroad; its sequel has tallied nearly that — $276.5 million — in less than two weeks. Overseas audiences are often late to the party for new franchises; they now seem to have got the word on the Collins-Lawrence series. If Catching Fire follows other hit sequels (in the Harry Potter and Twilight Saga skeins) and earns more than 60% of its worldwide gross abroad, it could become a billion-dollar baby.

(MORE: Lev Grossman’s interview with The Hunger Games writer Suzanne Collins and Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence)

Katniss’s fire was nearly matched by Elsa’s ice. After a five-day exclusive run at L.A.’s El Capitan Theatre that amassed a tidy $343,000, Frozen broke big at 3,742 venues with $66.7 million for the weekend and $93.4 million for five days — the highest opening for any of Disney’s non-Pixar cartoons. The studio’s last princess movie, Tangled, earned $200.8 million in North America and nearly $600 million abroad. These lofty figures could be topped by Frozen, which updates the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Snow Queen” into a drama of one princess who turns her kingdom into a nuclear winter and another who tries to save her. Budgeted at $150 million, the movie aced a perfect A-plus rating from the CinemaScore poll of early attendees.

(MORE: Richard Corliss’s review of Frozen)

The mobs at Catching Fire and Frozen meant that theaters showing the three big new releases were next to empty. Homefront, a crime thriller written by Sylvester Stallone and starring Jason Statham and James Franco, earned $7 million — about par for recent vehicles (Killer Elite, Safe and Parker) headlining the English B-movie action hero — and $9.8 million in its first five days. Next summer Statham will play the main villain in Fast & Furious 7, the final film for F&F good guy Paul Walker, who died Saturday in the crash of a Porsche in Valencia, Calif. The driver, professional racer Roger Rodas, was also killed. R.I.P. to both.

(MORE: Fast & Furious Actor Paul Walker Dies at 40)

Black Nativity, director Kasi Lemmons’ film of the Langston Hughes musical and starring Oscar laureates Forrest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson, made little joyous noise. Despite an A-minus CinemaScore, the movie, budgeted at $17.5 million, registered just $5 million over the five-day holiday. Another prominent African-American director, Spike Lee, did even worse with his Americanization of the South Korean thriller Oldboy: $830,000 over the weekend and $1.5 million for the full five days in 583 theaters. Starring Josh Brolin as a man imprisoned for 20 years and Elizabeth Olsen as the young woman who helps him find his mysterious captor, the movie cost $30 million to produce and pulled an unimpressive B-minus CinemaScore.

(MORE: Richard Corliss’s review of Spike Lee’s Oldboy)

The bio-pic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, with Idris Elba as the South African freedom fighter, opened in four theaters to a hopeful $100,300 total. Two other Oscar-aiming films went wider this weekend, with modest to encouraging results. The Book Thief, the movie version of Markus Zuzak’s international best seller about the love of literature that sustains little Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) in book-burning Nazi Germany, earned a five-day $6.4 million on 1,234 screens. And Philomena, the true-life tale of an Irishwoman (Judi Dench) searching for the son taken from her a half-century before, scored $4.6 million in 835 theaters, also in five days.

(MORE: Mary Corliss’s review of Philomena)

Philomena will grow box-office legs as Dench gets nominated for year-end awards. The Book Thief may have a harder road, unless it pounds home to audiences the message that its heroine, like those of Catching Fire and Frozen, is a young girl who achieves heroism in a forbidding climate. Perhaps a Liesel doll would help.

Here are the 10 top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo. We list the estimated totals for both the weekend (Friday-Sunday) and the five-day Thanksgiving frame (Wednesday-Sunday).

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, $74.5 million, weekend; $110.1 million, five days; $296.5 million, second week
2. Frozen, $66.7 million, weekend; $93.1 million, five days; $93.4 million, second week
3. Thor: The Dark World, $11.1 million, weekend; $15.5 million, five days; $186.7 million, fourth week
4. The Best Man Holiday, $8.5 million, weekend; $11.1 million, five days; $63.4 million, third week
5. Homefront, $7 million, weekend; $9.8 million, first five days
6. Delivery Man, $6.9 million, weekend; $9.7 million, five days; $19,5 million, second week
7. The Book Thief, $4.85 million, weekend; $6.4 million, five days; $7.9 million, fourth week
8. Black Nativity, $3.9 million, weekend; $5 million, first five days
9. Philomena, $3.8 million, weekend; $4.6 million, five days; $4.8 million, second week
10. Last Vegas, $2.8 million; $3.8 million, five days; $58.7 million, fifth week

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