'Hunger Games' prequel leads box office with $44 million, well below its predecessors

The "Hunger Games" prequel volunteered as tribute for the weekend box office and was crowned the winner.

Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" hauled in $44 million in North America in its opening weekend, according to estimates from measurement firm Comscore.

The YA novel-turned-movie easily defeated its biggest competition, Universal Pictures' "Trolls Band Together." The animated jukebox musical performed to the tune of $30.6 million in its wide-release debut, bringing its domestic total to $31.77 million.

"The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" fell just short of initial box-office projections of $45 million to $60 million.

Read more: Review: 'Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes' feels rushed on its way to fascism

Internationally, the action film collected $54.5 million, according to studio estimates, for a worldwide total of $98.5 million.

The movie performed well below its "Hunger Games" predecessors' domestic opening weekends. The original "Hunger Games" film landed a $152.5 million opening in 2012; 2013's "Catching Fire" scored $158 million in its debut; 2014's "Mockingjay — Part 1" captured $121.9 million on opening weekend; and 2015's "Mockingjay — Part 2" opened to $102.7 million.

Rounding out the domestic box office this weekend were Disney's "The Marvels," which collected $10.2 million in its sophomore outing for a North American total of $65 million; TriStar Pictures' horror flick "Thanksgiving" scared up $10.2 million in its opening weekend; and Universal Pictures' "Five Nights at Freddy's" brought in $3.5 million in its fourth weekend, spooking its way to a North American cumulative of $132.6 million.

Directed by Francis Lawrence, "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" explores the formative young adult years of future tyrannical president of Panem Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) and his relationship with Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler), the girls tribute from District 12 for the 10th Hunger Games (the same district Katniss Everdeen represents many years later). The film also stars Hunter Schafer, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage and Jason Schwartzman.

Read more: Review: For 'Thanksgiving,' Eli Roth serves up a feature-length feast of gore, some of it stale

The PG-13 book adaptation scored a tepid 61% critic score and an impressive 90% audience score on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. It garnered a B-plus grade from audiences polled by CinemaScore.

"It feels like a sequel movie that’s been hastily tacked on, with a distinctly different look and feel, set in the retro-industrial Appalachia of District 12, and the characters in completely different psychological mind-sets," writes Tribune News Service film critic Katie Walsh.

"Zegler cements her charm in a role that plays to her vocal strengths — her bluegrass performances are incredibly appealing," Walsh continues. "There’s so much that works about 'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,' it’s unfortunate that it’s all been crammed into one overly long film."

Opening in wide release next week are Focus Features' "The Holdovers," Disney's "Wish" and Columbia Pictures and Apple's "Napoleon."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.