LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The "Hunger Games" sequel "Catching Fire" pulled in $25.25 million in U.S. box office sales on Thursday night, 28 percent more than the first movie in the franchise grossed on the same night, and setting a course for big opening weekend sales.
The highly-anticipated Lions Gate Entertainment Corp film opens officially in the United States on Friday, but many theaters began showing the movie on Thursday.
The films, which star Jennifer Lawrence as heroine Katniss Everdeen, are based on Suzanne Collins' wildly popular novels about an oppressive post-apocalyptic society that stages teen death matches to maintain order among its citizens. In "Catching Fire," Katniss' actions have sparked a revolution that spreads quickly, and she becomes a beacon for hope.
The first "Hunger Games" movie in 2012 was a smash hit last year, collecting $691 million in ticket sales worldwide.
Online ticketing service Fandango said "Catching Fire" was its top ticket seller for the year, eclipsing "Iron Man 3."
"The demand for tickets is intense, with sales showing no signs of flagging through the weekend," a Fandango spokesman said in an email.
The movie is projected by industry experts to earn between $150 million and $170 million at the U.S. box office in its opening weekend, according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.
"The film has benefited from great reviews, the books are a worldwide phenomenon and very importantly, Jennifer Lawrence the star, she's an Oscar-winner and her profile has risen dramatically since the first film," Dergarabedian said.
"The Hunger Games" follows on the heels of young adult franchises such as "Harry Potter," which grossed more than $7 billion worldwide with eight films, and "Twilight," which took more than $3 billion worldwide with five films.
Overseas, "Catching Fire" has already grossed $32 million, Lions Gate said in a statement, adding that most markets opened with more than double the ticket sales of the first "Hunger Games" movie.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom and Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Andrew Hay)