With midnight screenings of The Hunger Games just hours away, box office records are waiting to be shattered. The film, based on the monstrously popular book by Suzanne Collins, is set in the dystopian country of Panem, where a 16-year-old heroine is forced to fight 23 other teenagers (called "tributes") to the death in a terrifying government-sponsored reality-TV show. The flick is poised to become a phenomenon: It has already sold out 2,000 screenings, moving more advance-sale tickets than any other non-sequel ever. One debate has already been settled: The film is fantastic, critics agree. Here, five other burning questions:
1. Do you need to have read the book to enjoy the movie?
Not at all, says Molly Driscoll at The Christian Science Monitor. The Twilight series has relied heavily on moviegoers already steeped in the books. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, with its relevant social commentary on everything from government control to reality TV, is well-poised to stand alone. The film does a wizardly job of establishing the rules of the dystopian world and the character relationships, says Jill Pantozzi at The Mary Sue, and is so action-packed that the uninitiated will be engrossed.
2. Will its opening break records?
Almost inevitably, given the advance sales. The Hunger Games should obliterate 2010's Alice in Wonderland, whose debut March weekend set a record of $116 million domestically. If The Hunger Games accomplishes that feat, it would be only the second March movie to ever top $100 million in its first weekend, says the Associated Press. But some projections are even rosier: According to box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, The Hunger Games could debut with more than $140 million, earning the film a spot in the Top Five domestic opening weekends of all-time.
3. How does its appeal compare to that of the Twilight films?
Because it's based on a book trilogy, marketed heavily toward the tween set, and features a love triangle, The Hunger Games is most often compared to the Twilight vampire movie series. But as Dergarabedian observes, young female fans mostly drove Twilight, while The Hunger Games has elicited strong interest from a wider range of demographic slices. "It could exceed even our strongest expectations."
4. How much cash could it bring in total?
"This has an excellent chance at making more than $300 million in total domestic box office," says Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com, which would put The Hunger Games ahead of the Twilight films "and in the same league as the Harry Potter movies."
5. Could the movie be an Oscar contender?
It may have been prescient that Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence (who plays fierce heroine Katniss Everdeen and was Oscar nominated for her performance in Winter's Bone) was chosen to announce the 2012 Oscar nominations this past January, says Amy Wilkinson at MTV. While big-screen adaptations of young adult (YA) novels don't have a good track record at the Oscars — more than a few critics were bummed that the final Harry Potter film was overlooked for a Best Picture nod — The Hunger Games stands a real shot at entering the race. The cast and crew of the film boast 30 Oscar nominations between them, and the film "deals more seriously with issues of life, death, and government control" than any other past YA contender.