The hype and fan devotion surrounding “The Hunger Games” may well earn the movie a new box office record for a March debut, and substantial acclaim for its creator, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. The number of advanced ticket sales and media coverage indicate a strong opening for the film based on Suzanne Collins’s young adult series, the Associated Press reports:

“Fans are so hungry for “The Hunger Games” that Hollywood’s buzzing about an opening weekend to rival the $140 million debuts of some of the “Twilight” movies.

Early tracking pegged “The Hunger Games” at only about half that much. But box-office forecasters have been continually revising their predictions upward based on audience awareness and advance ticket sales.

Opening Friday, “The Hunger Games” has a strong shot at shattering the record March debut of $116.1 million domestically for 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland.” It would be only the second movie opening in March to top $100 million in the first weekend.”

The calculated publicity push may be a driving force behind the speculation of a strong turnout for opening weekend. For the last year, a dizzying amount of hype has surrounded the production, Jen Chaney reports:

“But the devotees aren’t the only ones who pay attention to the blitz; independent Web sites and traditional media outlets are itchy to share this material with their readers, too. And that means the past year has yielded what has felt , at a conservative estimate, like 5,000 blogosphere mentions of “The Hunger Games” per day.”

But Chaney says Lions Gate has seemed to do it effectively:

“The Hunger Games”adopted that approach extremely effectively, constantly feeding tidbits and engaging online experiences (see Capitol Couture for one example) to the fans of the Suzanne Collins books that inspired the film. Those efforts that helped maintain high “Hunger” interest and media coverage for more than a year. 

Positive reviews have flowed out since the embargo lifted Tuesday morning, which will likely help the film rake in additional ticket sales over its first weekend. In her review, Post critic Ann Hornaday says the film garnered enough Web attention and pre-opening buzz to make any Hollywood exec “giggle like a schoolgirl.”

“That perverse dystopia is brought faithfully, if un-spectacularly, to life by director Gary Ross in “The Hunger Games,” which hews to the most important contours of Collins’s book, the first of a trilogy. If the series’s legions of fans miss a detail here or a sub-plot there, they’ll still recognize its bones and sinew, especially in Jennifer Lawrence’s eagle-eyed heroine Katniss Everdeen, who combines the unapologetic aggression of Artemis with the girlier wish-fulfillment fantasies of a bemused Cinderella.”

Other critics have likewise piled on the praise, Chaney reports:

Christy Lemire of the Associated Press praises the film for maintaining its suspense even for those who already know full well how this story goes: “‘The Hunger Games’ runs nearly two and a half hours in length but is the rare film that never drags and doesn't overstay its welcome. It could keep running as long as Katniss does, and we'd want to be right there every heart-pounding step of the way.”

Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News gives the film five stars out of five: “It’s better and scarier than its source book, and aims an angry eye at our bloodthirsty, watch-anything-and-cheer culture.”

Like virtually every review, even the single lousy one (more on that later), Drew McWeeney of HitFix praises Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the main character: “The thing that finally pushes ‘The Hunger Games’ over the top is the performance by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen ... it is a pure movie star performance, and Lawrence rises to the occasion.” (Expect the conversation about whether Lawrence’s work is worthy of awards season consideration to start now, if it hasn’t already.)

More on “The Hunger Games”:

'The Hunger Games' brought faithfully, if un-spectacularly, to life

"Hunger Games" and the great Hollywood hype machine

Jennifer Lawrence says she understands the hype surrounding 'The Hunger Games' film release

Celebritology 2.0 : Jennifer Lawrence refers to herself as a troll on national television (Video)

“Hunger” cast talk travels at secret N.Y. premiere

'The Hunger Games' leading man isn't picking sides in movie's Peeta Vs. Gale love triangle