ByJerome Maida, writer at
Jerome Maida

Last week, [The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1](movie:446261) finally inched past "Guardians of the Galaxy" to become the highest-grossing film released in 2014.

What's surprising is that this was ever in doubt.

Given that "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" became the first film in history to outperform a predecessor that grossed at least $350 million (it grossed $424 million to best the original's $408 million domestic take), and that the would-be blockbusters that came soon after it seemed to be suffering from franchise fatigue ([The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies](movie:512312)), family films that opened way too close to one another to truly break out ("Into the Woods", "Annie") or both ("Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb").

"Unbroken" seemed to be the most promising of the would-be Oscar contenders - and no one was forecasting it to be anywhere close to the blockbuster it would need to be to challenge Katniss Everdeen's latest adventure.

However, a puzzling lack of marketing for "Mockingjay - Part 1" made it seem like slightly less of an event, as did the fact that it would not be shown on IMAX (those screens were saved for "[Interstellar](movie:813746)", the only film thought to have a chance of overtaking the Jennifer Lawrence juggernaut, if fans reacted to it somewhere in between the second coming of "Avatar" and "The Dark Knight".

Which moviegoers, of course, didn't.

Still, the lack of hype, magazine covers, a drop in interest by those who felt "Mockingjay" was the weakest book of "The Hunger Games" trilogy to begin with, that it was split in two parts, got slightly weaker reviews than it's predecessors and a historic trend of penultimate chapters of films being split in two having a slight drop in box-office (before rising again when those who were waiting for the true final chapter bough tickets) and you have a film that failed to meet, let alone exceed expectations, yet has now still made it's way to the top of the 2014 Domestic Chart.

In another surprise twist, "American Sniper" now has "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" in it's sights.

Whether that will succeed in becoming the top 2014 film in terms of domestic box-office is fodder for another piece.

What I'd like to do here is give you some insight into how historic - and important - it would be if "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" kept the top spot for 2014. All of these are based on statistics since 1980, when box-office tracking became more detailed and accurate:

1.) First, it would become the ONLY FRANCHISE to ever lead the domestic box-office two years in a row. Now, this is, in large part, because big-budget, blockbuster franchises having films in back-to-back years is a relatively recent phenomenon. Still, it is not an easy thing to do.

For example, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" finished a whisker-thin $4 million behind "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" for the Top Domestic Film of 2001. "Sorecerer's Stone" had a $317.5 million domestic haul, while "Fellowship of the Ring" had a $313.3 million take domestically.

Then, in 2002, "Spider-Man" ruled the domestic box-office with a stunning $403.7 million domestic haul, while "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" finished second with a $339.7 million take domestically.

"The Two Towers" had topped it's nemesis from 2001, with "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" finishing fourth for the year domestically with $261 million.

It also had become only the second film ever to finish with more domestic box-office than a new "Star Wars" offering in a calendar year, topping $302 million domestic take of "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones".

Unfortunately, the first, was "Spider-Man".

Finally, in 2003 "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" became the top domestic film in 2003, besting all of it's fellow blockbusters with a franchise-best $377 million domestic take.

Like I said, not easy to do.

2.) "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" topping 2014 would put it in an elite group of franchises that topped the domestic box-office for two calendar years.

Obviously, any film that was champ of a calendar year at the domestic box-office is an all-time film. We're talking about films like 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark", 1982's "E.T.",1984's "Beverly Hills Cop", 1985' "Back to the Future", 1986's "Top Gun", 1988's "Rain Man", 1990's "Home Alone", 1994's "Forrest Gump", 1997's "Titanic", and 2009's "Avatar".

But to pull off the accomplishment in TWO different calendar years or more?

That is rare air indeed.

If "Mockingjay - Part 1" can hold off "American Sniper", it would join the following franchises that have led the domestic box-office in more than one year since 1980:

Star Wars -4 Years

Yep,a tale of Darth Vader and company has led the domestic box-office in FOUR different calendar years: "The Empire Strikes Back" in 1980; "Return of the Jedi" in 1983; "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace" in 1999 and "Star Wars" Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" in 2005.

Since it is basically a given that "Star wars" topped the domestic box-office in 1977, that means FIVE of the SIX "Star Wars" were the top-grossing films at the domestic box-office in their respective years. Incredible.

Batman - 2 Years

Amazingly, these films were released 19 years apart. The original, Michael Keaton-srring, Tim Burton directed "Batman" blew everyone away in 1989. In 2008, Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale and - especially - Heath Ledger did the same thing in 2008.

Toy Story - 2 Years

Almost as amazing there was a fifteen year gap between these two champs, although most of the principals - Tom Hanks and Tim Allen chief among them - were still the same between 1995 domestic box-office champ "Toy Story and 2010 domestic box-office king "Toy Story 3".

Harry Potter - 2 Years

Of the eight wondrously successful films in the "Harry Potter" franchise, only two were kings of the domestic box-office for their calendar year - and they came a decade apart. They would be 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's stone" and and 2011's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2".

Spider-Man - 2 Years

Part of the reason the last two films in the "Spider-Man" franchise have been deemed disappointments is that the bar was set so high with Sam Raimi's installments. Both 2002's "Spider-Man" and 2007's "Spider-Man 3" were the top domestic earners of their respective years.

Look at that list above. That's pretty heady company. If Katniss Everdeen joins that group, and is the first to do it in back-to-back years, that can't help but get more projects with female leads green lit.

Studio execs can't help but keep hearing how Katniss Everdeen's latest adventure was the top-grossing of the year and tell his colleagues they have to start making films like that!

Which would be a great thing.

Because Adi Shankar told me recently that the reason projects like the "Female Expendables" film he has wanted to do have not been green lit yet is because someone always asks, "Where's the guys?"

If Jennifer Lawrence's already-iconic character can rule the box-office for another year, it will make pitching projects like Shankar's that much easier.

What do the rest of you think?


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