LOS ANGELES -- "Mockingjay - Part 2," the final "Hunger Games" film, soared to a $101 million opening in its first weekend in theaters, according to Rentrak estimates Sunday.
For most films, the figure would be a coup, but the latest chapter of "The Hunger Games" collected the lowest opening take among the four films in the series.
The series starring Jennifer Lawrence kicked off with a bang in March 2012 with a massive $152.5 million weekend - one of the highest openings of all time.
"Catching Fire," the second film in the franchise, one-upped that with a $158.1 million debut in November 2013.
Lionsgate split the final book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy into two films, following the precedent of "Twilight" and "Harry Potter."
"Mockingjay - Part 1" opened on this weekend last year to $121.9 million, considered at the time to be a necessary and expected dip while fans awaited the final installment, which, if it had mimicked "Twilight" or "Harry Potter," would have snared at least the second-highest (if not highest) opening in the series.
The franchise low for the final "Hunger Games" film, which cost a reported $160 million to make, was a bit of a surprise. Lionsgate, however, was not disappointed.
"It's a great accomplishment. The overall franchise has grossed over $2 billion worldwide and counting," said David Spitz, co-president of theatrical distribution for Lionsgate. "It's a pretty phenomenal result."
Expectations run high when films become so popular and successful in such a short a time, said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for Rentrak.
"If we live in a world where a $100 million opening is a disappointment, that's pretty crazy," he said
Only 34 movies in history have opened at over $100 million, including all four in "The Hunger Games" series.
Dergarabedian attributes the showing to a down marketplace. Just two weekends ago, "Spectre," which fell to second place this week with $14.6 million, failed to live up to the domestic opening of "Skyfall," the previous James Bond film.
"Thanksgiving represents a good opportunity for a really strong second weekend," Dergarabedian said of "Mockingjay - Part 2."
With $12.8 million, "The Peanuts Movie" finished behind "Spectre" and ahead of the Seth Rogen holiday comedy "The Night Before," which earned an expected $10.1 million. The R-rated film cost about $25 million to produce.
"This is a movie that people love. Opening early seemed like a really good prelude to the Thanksgiving weekend where it will expand beautifully," said Rory Bruer, Sony's president of worldwide distribution. "It's a good start for us."
The Julia Roberts thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes," a remake of the Oscar-winning Argentinian film, debuted wide this weekend to $6.6 million from 2,392 locations - slightly under expectations.
With the weekend box office down 11 percent from last year, it remains to be seen whether 2015 will indeed become a record-breaking $11 billion year as many predicted at the outset. Box office is up 4.2 percent from last year, but 2013 is the year to beat - and this year is tracking less than 1 percent ahead of that.
"We're in the home stretch," Dergarabedian said. "But remember, we have a little secret weapon in 'Star Wars.'"
Last 'Hunger Games' opens to $101 million, a franchise low
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