NEW YORK — “Mockingjay, Part 1” didn’t catch fire like the previous installments of “The Hunger Games,” but it still had the biggest opening of the year with $123 million at the weekend box office, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Lionsgate’s “Mockingjay” opened well below the $158 million debut of last year’s “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and the $153 million opening of the 2012 original. But even with a $30-million-plus slide in the franchise, “Mockingjay” far surpassed the previous top weekend of the year: the $100 million debut of “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
The result made for some unusual ironies. The biggest opening of the year (and by a wide margin) was seen by some as a disappointment. After initial box office receipts of “Mockingjay” rolled in Friday, forecasting a weekend below expectations, Lions Gate Entertainment’s stock dipped 5 percent.
But the decision to split the final book in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy into two films was clearly lucrative for Lionsgate. “Mockingjay” did even better overseas, where it made $152 million over the weekend, accounting altogether for a $275 million global opening.
“It’s the biggest opening of the year, so it really illustrates the strength of the franchise,” said David Spitz, head of distribution for Lionsgate, noting the North American opening was the 15th best ever.
Spitz declined to answer questions about Wall Street’s reaction to the opening, or what the effect may have been of splitting the third book in two.
“It speaks for itself,” Spitz said of the result.
Dividing the book pushed much of the big drama of “Mockingjay” to the second film, scheduled for release in November 2015. On the same November weekend in 2010, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” — which similarly split the series’ last book into two — opened almost identically with $125 million. A year later, the second “Deathly Hallows” film debuted bigger than all previous “Harry Potter” films with $169 million.
“A little perspective is in order here,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box office tracker Rentrak. He called the “Mockingjay” results “still an astonishing feat.”
“I’m not worried about this franchise,” Dergarabedian said.
The release calendar made way for “Mockingjay,” as no other new wide releases hit theaters. In its third week of release, the Disney animated adventure “Big Hero 6” moved into second place with $20.1 million. Christopher Nolan’s space epic “Interstellar” came in third with $15.1 million, also in its third week.
Last week’s top film, the long-in-coming sequel “Dumb and Dumber To,” slid considerably. The Universal comedy dropped to fourth place with $13.8 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1,” $123 million.
2. “Big Hero 6,” $20.1 million.
3. “Interstellar,” $15.1 million.
4. “Dumb and Dumber To,” $13.8 million.
5. “Gone Girl,” $2.8 million.
6. “Beyond the Lights,” $2.6 million.
7. “St. Vincent,” $2.4 million.
8. “Fury,” $1.9 million.
9. “Birdman,” $1.9 million.
10. “The Theory of Everything,” $1.5 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle at http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP .