UPDATE: A representative for Lionsgate confirmed that “we have a deal that encompasses 4 movies.” Original story follows with minor edits.

Harry Potter did it first, Twilight followed suit and, if Lionsgate experiences the success of those two franchises with their anticipated, upcoming film, they plan to do the same. Deadline first reported that in a recent meeting with Wall Street analysts Lionsgate told them to expect four movies from the trilogy of books in The Hunger Games series written by Suzanne Collins. That certainly sounds like they plan to split either the second book, Catching Fire or – more likely – the final book, Mocking Jay, into two movies. [UPDATE: Lionsgate confirmed their deal encompasses four movies but wouldn't say where the fourth would come from.] Of course, if the first Hunger Games movie doesn’t do well when it’s released in March, this plan would likely go down the tubes. Read more after the break.

Here’s the exact excerpt from the Deadline article:

Lionsgate executives told Wall Street analysts this morning to expect big things from The Hunger Games, a series of four action films that the studio will release from the trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. COO Joe Drake said it was “the highest selling film we’ve ever had” at the Cannes Film Festival and that overseas exhibitors consider it “the movie that can change their company.” Although Lionsgate wouldn’t disclose its budget for the films, Drake says Hunger Games could become an “outsized success” for Lionsgate. The studio says it bought the rights before the books became runaway best-sellers, and it has “retained the majority of the upside” in its talent and distribution deals.

Because they acquired the rights early and, seem to be, keeping the budget down – at least in terms of blockbuster Hollywood filmmaking – it’s going to be difficult to not make a bunch of money on this movie, making the sequels almost inevitable.

A good indicator towards the viability of this plan will be The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2. The final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was split primarily because it could not have been translated correctly in one movie. While money was certainly a major plus for Warner Bros., the story was simply too long and detailed for one film (for example, rumor had it a one part version of the movie removed the Deathly Hallows entirely). I’ve not read the fourth Twilight book, Breaking Dawn, but judging simply from fan reactions, splitting it into two movies felt less like a necessity and more like a way to make two times the money. In that aim, there’s no doubt Summit will be successful but, critically, will each film suffer because they’re too stretched out?

Again, this seems to all be very early in the planning stages as shooting has only recently commenced on the first film but, Lionsgate is certainly hoping The Hunger Games does for them what Twilight did for Summit – make a mini major studio into a big time player. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mocking Jay are all about the same length. Of course any of them could be meticulously translated down to the last detail and split into two movies but that might not do the movies themselves justice. Is that really what the fans want?

Do you think it’s premature to start thinking about splitting a third film?

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