Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games."
Making history, Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games" opened to an astounding $155 million at the domestic box office, the third-best debut of all time and the best for any film opening outside of summer.
"Hunger Games" -- the big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling young-adult novel starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth -- also reeled in the biggest opening for a nonsequel.
"It was the perfect storm. Having the first film in a franchise to be so gigantic is amazing. We had a great book, and a great director in Gary Ross," said Lionsgate president of marketing Tim Palen, whose team is credited with a savvy campaign.
Domestic box office revenues were up a whopping 78 percent from a year ago, thanks to the might of "Hunger Games," which changes the fortunes of Lionsgate and gives the studio an instant tentople franchise. Lionsgate will make three more films by splitting the final book in Collins' trilogy into two movies.
Overseas, "Hunger Games" turned in a more muted performance for a solid bow of $59.3 million from 67 markets. The foreign tally, which came in ahead of the international debut of the first "Twilight" film, puts "Hunger Games' " worldwide opening at $214.3 million.
"Hunger Games" is projected to place No. 1 in virtually every foreign market, but did best in English-speaking territories, and particularly Australia, where it debuted to $6.7 million. "Hunger Games" turned in $7.5 million in the U.K., despite unseasonably warm weather, which often keeps consumers outside.
In North America, the tentpole came in not far behind the $158.4 million earned by "The Dark Knight" in its July 2008 debut. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" holds the record for best debut with $169.2 million in summer 2011.
Among the past films that "Hunger Games" surpassed in its opening weekend were "Spider-Man 3" ($151.1 million in 2007), "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" ($142.8 million in 2009) and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1" ($138.1 million last year).
"Hunger Games" drew an A CinemaScore overall on Friday night, with those under the age of 25 giving it a glowing A+ and those over 25 an A-. Tweens and teens turned out in force for the film, with 39 percent of the audience younger than 18, according to CinemaScore exit polling.
Part of the movie's strength is that it is appealing to males as well as females, unlike the femme-heavy "Twilight" franchise, another blockbuster film property based on a young-adult book series. Males made up 39 percent of "Hunger Games' " Friday night audience.
"The numbers just kept growing and growing. And based on the trajectory of the weekend, we are going to have an unbelievable hold. We are going to play and play," Lionsgate executive vice president of distribution David Spitz said. "I think that when we initially looked at this property, we thought we were going to have "Twilight" numbers in terms of females, but we didn't."
"Hunger Games" also played like a family film, evidenced by its strong Friday to Saturday hold. The film fell a narrow 25 percent, while the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" films fall anywhere from 44 percent to 60 percent.
According to CinemaScore, 49 percent of those showing up to see "Hunger Games" were under the age of 25; Lionsgate's exit polling showed that 44 percent were under the age of 25.
"Hunger Games" played in a total of 4,137 theaters at the domestic box office, including 268 IMAX theaters, which turned in a hefty $10.6 milion for a per screen average of $40,000, a record for a 2D nonsequel.
Elsewhere at the domestic box office, Sony and MGM's Jonah Hill-Channing Tatum comedy "21 Jump Street" stayed strong its opening weekend despite "Hunger Games." The R-rated pic fell 41 percent to $21.3 million, putting its domestic cume at a handy $71.1 million.
Universal and Illumination's "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" came in No. 3 after "Hunger Games" and "21 Jump Street," grossing $13.1 million in its fourth weekend for an enviable domestic gross of $177.3 million.