It's no secret that Lionsgate is betting that The Hunger Games will be the next young adult novel-turned-box office monster. Hence why it has wasted no time preparing to adapt the remaining novels in Suzanne Collins' original best-selling sci-fi series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay (the two are slated to be split into three movies).
Catching Fire already has a tentative late 2013 release date set up, since Lionsgate intends to employ the same release date template that Warner Bros. used for the Harry Potter franchise and Summit for The Twilight Saga: namely, get the movies out in theaters on an annual basis, so as to strike while the iron is hot and avoid having to re-cast the characters (of all ages) in the films.
Deadline says that Hunger Games helmer Gary Ross is already prepped to return for the sequel. However, due to his post-production duties on that picture, Ross won't soon be available to collaborate with Collins on the screenplay for Catching Fire, as is what ultimately happened with the first movie, after scriber Billy Ray penned an earlier draft of the Hunger Games screenplay.
As a result, Lionsgate is looking to bring on another screenwriter for Catching Fire: namely, Simon Beaufoy, the Oscar-winner who scripted Slumdog Millionaire, co-penned 127 Hours, and was the sole writing talent behind The Full Monty. He's also worked on well-received literary adaptations like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and the upcoming Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
Beaufoy has not officially begun negotiations yet to sign on for Catching Fire, but Ross, Hunger Games series producers Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik, along with several other Lionsgate studio executives, are reportedly "pushing hard" for the screenwriter to be brought onboard and get the ball rolling on the sequel.
Hunger Games fans were by and large quite pleased with the footage on display in the recently-unveiled full-length trailer for Ross' adaptation. The "less is more" approach of that preview seems to be paying off, as more newcomers who were previously not interested in the project are now at least intrigued.
So, assuming the remainder of the Hunger Games marketing campaign continues to pick up speed, anticipation for the film could be all the more heightened and widespread by the time it actually hits theaters. Lionsgate thus has good reason to at least have pre-production on Catching Fire well underway by that point, so that it can move forward quickly when/if Hunger Games becomes a box office smash.
A recent Bloomberg report revealed that The Hunger Games only needs to reach the $100 million mark at the U.S. box office, in order for Lionsgate to justify making a sequel. The studio has already made $50 million on the film by selling the international distribution rights (minus those in the U.K.) to others studios; hence why the $80 million-budgeted flick need not be a box office juggernaut, in order to keep the franchise alive.
That is all to say: right now, it's a safe bet that Hunger Games is going to be popular enough to ensure Catching Fire actually happens (pun intended).
The Hunger Games is scheduled to arrive in theaters around the U.S. on March 23rd, 2012.
Catching Fire is tentatively slated to hits theaters in the U.S. on November 22nd, 2013.