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You wouldn't think that the $123 million opening of Mockingjay: Part 1 would be declared a disappointment, but Wall Street thinks differently. According to recent reports, Lionsgate's stock fell 5% after what analysts were calling an underwhelming opening weekend. In many ways, they should have seen it coming.
Despite how huge a $123 million turnout is, The Hunger Games opened with $152 million, and Catching Fire debuted with $158 million. That's not to say that Mockingjay: Part 1 is a flop; it still has the highest opening of the year. However, it certainly does show that Hollywood's new found habit of splitting finales into two films needs to end right away.
Ever since the extreme success of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hollywood immediately jumped on the opportunity to make twice the profit with one story. They did the same with the Twilight finale, and both parts of Breaking Dawn turned out to be success too. So in a classic act of monkey-see-monkey-do, Lionsgate decided to make two-part finales to not only the Hunger Games series, but the Divergent series as well. Little did they know that their beloved trend was never popular to begin with.
I recall when I first saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 in theaters. It was opening night and everybody was ecstatic. Then the ending happened...and the theater erupted into a chorus of the following:
- "Oh come on!"
- "That's it!?"
So while executives in Hollywood were toasting cosmos to the success of their big franchise, audiences left the theater unsatisfied. I remember many people calling the film uneventful and boring, which was the direct result of only being half of a whole story. Nevertheless, the film was still a hit. It met the projected opening weekend numbers, so Wall Street was happy and the trend continued.
The same thing happened with the Breaking Dawn and Hobbit movies. All the build-up and exposition divided audiences and encited groans in the beginning before the "sequels" cranked up the action and excitement.
It's pretty safe to say that audiences knew the drill by the time Mockingjay: Part 1 was released. That formula goes as followed:
- Get excited.
- See the movie.
- Watch hours of build-up.
- When the pace picks up, the movie ends.
- Get the obligatory "Hey, don't forget to check out part two...Next year! Ha ha ha!" feeling while the credits roll.
Even those who saw it despite the formula responded negatively to the abrupt cliffhanger ending. More critics than I can count have additionally derided the split, even the ones who thought Mockingjay: Part 1 was well made over all. Almost all of them agree that the split felt forced for the purpose of making Lionsgate more money.
To put it simply, Mockingjay: Part 1 underwhelmed because people are sick and tired of cliffhanger endings. They are sick and tired of being asked by Hollywood to pay full price twice to see one story. Most of all though, they are sick and tired of executive greed telling them what they want.
Sure, director Francis Lawrence has said that the two-part split was not financially motivated. On the contrary, many moviegoers know that studios like to stick to their guns. It's likely that Lionsgate used Lawrence as a mouthpiece under contractual obligation to defend their cynical practices.
On the bright side, the lower-than-expected turnout may finally convince studio heads (not just at Lionsgate, but everywhere else) that no matter how big a franchise is: audiences will still catch on to cash-grabs. They aren't lemmings; you can't just tell them to spend more money for one story without a backlash.
Once again, Mockingjay: Part 1 will technically be a hit. On the other hand if it's opening weekend underwhelmed so much compared to its predecessors, what's to say that something like Allegiant: Part 1 won't do even worse compared to Divergent and Insurgent? Will it come to the point where it will be more profitable to make just one movie out of one story? Hopefully.
What Hollywood needs to do is, like James Gunn said, focus on the quality of their movies. They need to cooperate with audiences to see what works and what doesn't work. If you were an executive, would you want your audiences groaning and unsatisfied at your films? No, you would want standing ovations. The best way to do that is to give them what they truly want; a complete, satisfying story that will keep you successful in the long run.