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Midnight ‘Hunger Games’ Release Draws a Crowd

18 Aug, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey

Lionsgate's Ron Schwartz and T.J. Moffett


SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — During the midnight DVD and Blu-ray Disc release of The Hunger Games Aug. 17 it was hard to tell who was more excited: Lionsgate’s Ron Schwartz or 16-year-old Grace Schaeffer, the first to buy the Blu-ray at this Walmart north of Los Angeles.

“Amazing. Oh wow,” Schaeffer breathed after she walked away with the first exclusive Walmart Blu-ray box set. She was palpably excited, eager to get home with her prize. “I’ll watch it at least 1,000 times,” she said, speaking for the hundreds who waited in line after her.

That’s music to Schwartz’s ears.

“It’s a No. 1 title. It’s the first installment of one of the best novel-based franchises of all time,” said the GM and EVP of home entertainment for Lionsgate. Schwartz smiled as fans filed into the store, first for autographs from actors Dayo Okeniyi (Thresh) and Jack Quaid (Marvel), second to buy what will be Lionsgate’s No. 1 sellthrough title of all time. “The Hunger Games has captured everyone’s imagination. Just look outside,” Schwartz said, gesturing to the line around the store. “You’ve got teenagers, adults, families. From theatrical to home entertainment we’ve had a compelling campaign, and it’s all come together in the right way.”

That’s an understatement. The Hunger Games’ domestic box office take cleared $407 million, and the film owns several box office records: the biggest-ever non-summer theatrical opening, the second best ever non-sequel opening and the fifth best opening of all time.

Mirroring — and likely surpassing — the successful retail events for the “Twilight” franchise (which Lionsgate acquired along with Summit Entertainment in January), the studio carried The Hunger Games’ theatrical excitement over to home entertainment: midnight launches nationwide, cast appearances at several stores, and exclusive disc offerings at Walmart, Best Buy, Target and Costco (along with a digital exclusive for iTunes).

How important is this title and franchise? The Hunger Games is the first Lionsgate title enabled with UltraViolet, offering owners near-universal, digital access to the film. “We planned for our first UltraViolet title to be important, but it’s not just important for us, it’s important for our industry,” Schwartz said.

It wasn’t just the impending success of The Hunger Games at retail that had Schwartz, T.J. Moffett (SVP of home entertainment marketing) and every other Lionsgate and Walmart representative on hand excited. It was the understanding that this is just the first salvo. Three more "Hunger Games" installments are in the pipe, one for each November through 2015.

Lionsgate is already looking years ahead. Fans this night were only looking to get home with their discs.

“Katniss is a survivor, a fighter, a selfless person,” said 55-year-old Lynn Taffin, discussing the hero of the film (while surrounded by several pre-teens, all holding a copy of the movie). “It’s a story about bravery.”

For 21-year-old Brooke, who asked that her last name not be used, The Hunger Games is more personal. A specific chapter of author Suzanne Collins’ work helped Brooke overcome an eating disorder, she said. “It’s literally changed my life,” she beamed. “I’ll be here for every [release].”

This first disc offering of The Hunger Games comes equipped with hours of near-exhaustive bonuses, and Schwartz stressed that the studio is not interested in “reintroducing SKU after SKU” of the same thing people purchased this midnight.

“But,” he hinted, “as the films develop over time, we’ll look at the material we have for all of them.”

An eventual re-release with deleted scenes, an extended cut, pretty much anything new from "The Hunger Games" universe won’t be passed on, if 24-year-old Ashleigh Spaugh is any indication.

“I usually won’t buy [a disc] twice, but for this? Absolutely,” she said.

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