Now that the Harry Potter series is done, it’s only natural that Wall Street would start to wonder: What’s the next movie franchise that will drive teens and adults to the box office in droves? And two analysts today think they have an answer. Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games, a four-movie series based on Suzanne Collins’ trilogy about two teens in a post-apocalyptic society struggling to survive a life-or-death contest. PiperJaffrey’s James Marsh raised his target price for Lionsgate shares to $12 from $10 based largely on his expectation that the films will “provide a material and identifiable catalyst” for the company. Cowen and Co’s Doug Creutz used similar language to project that Lionsgate shares will “outperform the market by at least 20% over the next 12 months.” That would be a welcome change for Lionsgate. Many investors soured on the company while billionaire Carl Icahn battled to take control and DVD sales began to collapse for the industry. Lionsgate’s shares have appreciated just 5% over the last 12 months while the overall market was up 20%. But the analysts say investors will turn the page as they begin to feast on news about Hunger Games. Marketing will begin late this year for the March 2012 release. Marsh says he expects it to become “the highest grossing film of all time at Lionsgate” with $150M in domestic box office sales. Consumers have bought 10M copies of the first book, which spent 99 weeks on the USA Today Best Seller List — and all three books continue to rank among the top 10. Lionsgate shares closed Monday at $7.17, up 1.6%.
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