'Hunger Games' sequel scores box office record

LOS ANGELES - "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" set North America's weekend box office alight, earning $158.1 million (S$197 million) in one of the biggest movie debuts ever, industry figures showed Monday.

Starring Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, the second instalment in the blockbuster series scored the biggest ever November debut, and the sixth best opening weekend of all time, Exhibitor Relations (ERC) said.

That beat the original 2012 "Hunger Games" movie starring Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a teenager forced into a deadly battle for survival in the macabre post-apocalyptic kingdom of Panem, which took $152.5 million.

Internationally the "Hunger Games" sequel - the films are adapted from Suzanne Collins' trilogy of novels - took another $146.6 million, for a combined global total of $307.7 million, Exhibitor Relations said.

The biggest ever North America box office debut was last year's "The Avengers" which earned $207,438,708, followed by this year's "Iron Man 3" on $174,144,585, according to ERC figures.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2," 2011's boy-wizard franchise finale, earned $169,189,427, while "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) came in fourth with $160,887,295, and the 2008 "The Dark Knight" made $158,411,483.

"The Avengers" has made more than $1.5 billion worldwide since its release, according to the IMDb Pro movie industry database.

The first "Hunger Games" movie saw Katniss and her male friend Peeta played by Josh Hutcherson emerge as the winners of the 74th "Hunger Games", a fight to the death between children organised by the evil rulers of Panem.

The latest film sees the duo fighting for their lives again while sowing the seeds of a youth rebellion, setting up the climactic showdown of the third novel "Mockingjay", split into two films.

The final instalment is due out in November next year.

Second place this weekend went to "Thor: The Dark World," the latest movie based on Marvel's iconic comic book character, which took in $14.2 million in its third weekend, for a total of $167.9 million so far.

Romantic Christmas comedy "The Best Man Holiday," a sequel 15 years in the making to "The Best Man" in which old college friends reignite old romances and rivalries, took in $12.5 million for third place.

The fourth spot went to "Delivery Man," which had a disappointing opening of just $7.9 million. The comedy stars veteran funnyman Vince Vaughn as a sperm donor who discovers he has sired 533 children.

Animated "Free Birds," in fifth place, earned $5.4 million, while sixth place went to "Last Vegas," starring Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline on a seniors' bachelor party to Sin City. It earned $4.4 million.

Screwball comedy "Bad Grandpa" was seventh with $3.4 million in ticket sales, while eighth place went to "Gravity," starring Oscar-winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts adrift in space, with $3.2 million. In ninth place was early Oscar contender "12 Years a Slave," with $2.8 million.

"Dallas Buyers Club" - starring Matthew McConaughey, about a rodeo cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s, the epidemic's deadliest days - rounded out the top 10 with $2.7 million in ticket sales.