The Hunger Games: Catching Fire looks to enter the record books this weekend, Image source: Lionsgate

Going into this weekend, I wondered whether Lionsgate's (NYSE:LGF-A) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire could propel itself into the record books with its widely anticipated debut.

After all, some preliminary estimates pegged its U.S. weekend launch at around $175 million, which would have been good for the second-highest debut in history. Incidentally, that would have also wedged it directly between two Disney (NYSE:DIS) films, trailing only the $207.4 million earned by Marvel's The Avengers in 2012and just ahead of the $174.1 million from Iron Man 3 earlier this year.

As it stands, however, it looks like the folks at Disney can rest easy for now. If early numbers are any indication, Catching Fire is currently on pace to grab "just" $153 million. Even so, that would still prove enough to edge out the first Hunger Games for the fifth-largest opening of all time, and should easily trump The Twilight Saga: New Moon for the highest-ever November weekend launch.

With this in mind, note Catching Fire is also tracking significantly ahead of its predecessor for international sales, which I specifically singled out on Friday as key to maximizing its chances of exceeding the $1 billion mark over its entire theatrical run.  

In fact, as of Friday evening and with two days to go, Catching Fire had already tallied $64 million from foreign movie-goers -- remember the first film garnered only $59.2 million internationally over its entire first weekend.

In other box office news...

But let's not forget everybody else.

As expected, Disney's latest comic book-derived film in Thor: The Dark World is on track to grab another $14.4 million in the U.S. this weekend, which should easily push its worldwide total above $530 million by the end of its third week.

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal's holdover, The Best Man Holiday, remains close behind, running up the score with an estimated $12.8 million domestic-only take in its second weekend. If The Best Man Holiday keeps up its momentum, it'll have nearly tripled Comcast's minuscule $17 million budget by Monday.

Finally, Disney's newcomer Delivery Man came out slower than expected, on pace to earn just $8.1 million domestically this weekend for fourth place, and will likely be followed by another $5 million from Relativity Media's fourth-week animated Thanksgiving effort, Free Birds.

Foolish takeaway

I'll be sure to touch base Monday once the final numbers roll in, but if one thing's for sure it's that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is off to a great start. In addition, the film should also benefit from positive word of mouth going forward as polled audiences granted it a rare "A" CinemaScore.

All things considered, and with a full three weeks until Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX.DL) Warner Bros. brings The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to life, it looks like Catching Fire should have no problem holding audiences captive long enough to prove more than worthy of Lionsgate's lofty $135 million production budget.