Maryland's appetite for 'Hunger Games' is huge

Elizabeth Banks (left) and Jennifer Lawrence star in "The Hunger Games." The movie -- based on a series of best-selling novels -- opens in theaters this weekend, but many Baltimore-area shows are already sold out.
Elizabeth Banks (left) and Jennifer Lawrence star in "The Hunger Games." The movie -- based on a series of best-selling novels -- opens in theaters this weekend, but many Baltimore-area shows are already sold out.(Murray Close, Lionsgate photo)

When the lights dim for "Hunger Games" at midnight Thursday, Fatimah Nelson, who bought tickets weeks ago, will be there, a bit breathless, at the edge of a plush seat at Arundel Mills.

"I've been waiting months and months and months," says the Baltimore 21-year-old. "I'm really excited."

Nelson and millions of others in Maryland and around the country are braced for the opening of "Hunger Games," the latest young adult book series to become a runaway hit and then a movie and, it's looking like, a cultural phenomenon on the likes of "Harry Potter" and "Twilight."

The movie is on track to become the online site Fandango's top-seller ever. More than 90 percent of people buying tickets on the site are buying that movie and more than 2,000 showtimes have sold out nationwide. Although marketed as a book for young adults, Fandango reports those 25 and older are buying 46 percent of advance tickets.

"The movie seems to be tracking through the roof," says Adam Birnbaum, a film buyer for independently owned theaters on the East Coast. "It is has become the most talked about film of the season."

The movie officially opens Friday, with a number of theaters offering midnight Thursday shows. Tickets to a number of the shows in the Baltimore area are long gone.

Five of the six midnight shows at Hunt Valley Regal Cinemas had been snapped up as of Tuesday evening, according to Fandango's listings.

The AMC Theatre in White Marsh was advertising multiple screens at midnight — including an IMAX — and also a 3:15 a.m. showing. Several of those sold out.

By Tuesday morning, every online sales ticket had been snatched up for the Friday 6:45 and 9:50 shows at Baltimore's Landmark Harbor East.

"We expect the crowds to be very big," says Kathleen Cusack, who operates Baltimore's Senator Theater, which is showing the movie. "There's all this buzz and a Harry Potter-like fanaticism."

The books — "The Hunger Games," "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" — are huge. The first novel has been on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 180 consecutive weeks.

Even "Twilight" writer Stephenie Meyer blogged that the story kept her up for several nights in a row because she couldn't stop thinking about it.

The books are considered young adult fiction, aimed at readers ages 13 and up, but have been embraced by people of all ages. More than 26 million copies of the trilogy — in 40 countries — have been sold.

Suzanne Collins tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, one of 24 teens selected to compete in the televised Hunger Games in a future where the United States has been divided into 12 regions all under the tyrannical rule of The Capitol.

Cameras capture every life-and-death moment as the players battle until only one is left alive. The games were established as a way for the government to remind citizens who is in charge.

The story's message is unlike the "Twilight" series, where a young teen dates a vampire, or "Harry Potter," where magic wins the day. "The Hunger Games" is anchored to an existence that can already be seen today in the unending flood of reality TV shows. It's a cautionary story of what happens when people start to lose touch with their humanity.

Lauren Kay has all three books loaded onto her Kindle. She devoured the first one a few weeks ago and now can't wait for the movie.

"I was instantly hooked," says the Baltimore 22-year-old. "I absolutely adored it."

Kay, who was left cold by the melodrama of "Twilight," loves "Hunger Games" for the action and adventure. She can also see herself and her love for her little sisters in Katniss.

In class recently at Timonium's Dulaney High School, a teacher wondered aloud how many students were counting the days to "Hunger Games."

Hands shot into the air.

One belonged to Adrianna McCourt, a Cockeysville 15-year-old who eagerly consumed the first book of the cult-hit trilogy by Suzanne Collins and hopes she'll be able to say she was among the first to see the movie when it opens Friday.

"A lot of people are talking about it," she says. "I would say about a quarter of the kids at school are really into it."

With the movie looming, people are lined up at local libraries hoping to get their hands on the books.

At the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, they have 65 copies of the first book, all out. If you want to get onto the waiting list, you'll have to get behind the 53 people already waiting — and another 10 waiting for the large-print version. More than 6,000 people have checked out the audio book and another 400 people are waiting for that.

"We've ordered 36 more paperbacks that we're expecting to receive soon," said a library spokesman, Roswell Encina. "With the momentum building for the movie [the interest has] been growing."

At the Baltimore County Public Library, you'll have no better luck: They've got more than 800 copies of the three books in the series — all out, and with nearly 400 people on a list waiting to pounce on them when they're returned.

Baltimore Sun news services and The Towson Times contributed to this article.



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