Box Office: Why ‘Ender’s Game’ Was Such a Tricky Movie to Market (Video)

The sci-fi saga had a potentially huge base, unlike “Last Vegas,” which scored a bulls-eye with a far more limited target demographic

It seems the old guys of “Last Vegas” still have a way with the ladies, at least at the box office.

More than half – a surprising 54 percent — of the audience was women as the comedy kicked off what CBS Films hopes is a lengthy run with a solid $16.2 million opening. And this is for a movie about four guys on a bachelor party that critics have likened to a septuagenarian “Hangover.”

The gender breakdown was surprising but the age numbers weren’t. Eighty-two percent of the crowd that turned out to see Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline hit Sin City were over 25. That’s a marketing bulls-eye, but with that cast, the target was in sharp focus all along.

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That wasn’t the case for “Ender’s Game,” the futuristic sci-fi thriller from Summit Entertainment, Odd Lot Entertainment and Digital Domain, which opened at No. 1 at the box office this weekend with $28 million.

(We’re only talking marketing and targets here; the two movies couldn’t be much more different. “Last Vegas” is a $28-million comedy that CBS would be glad see to top out at $50 million domestically, and the effects-heavy “Ender’s Game” cost $100 million to make, and was at one point seen as a potential franchise.)

“Ender’s Game” had built-in appeal with the millions who have read Orson Scott Card’s 1985 bestseller. The futuristic alien invasion plot was a draw for sci-fi fans. Young stars Asa Butterfield and Hailee Stanfield were there for teens and tweens. And Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley added some prestige, and appeal for older moviegoers.

It connected with each of those targets, but only to a degree. That’s why it won the weekend, but that’s also why it didn’t break out.

Also read: Orson Scott Card Won’t Make Squat From ‘Ender’s Game’ Box Office – Boycott the Book Instead (Exclusive)

It played 58 percent male, suggesting it found sci-fi fans, a group that’s mainly men. But 54 percent of the audience turned out to be over the age of 25, indicating that devotees of the book turned out — but not enough kids did.

To an extent, “Ender’s Game” created the same sort of marketing challenge that Sony faced this summer with another pricey sci-fi movie, “After Earth.”

In that one, Will Smith was the marquee name but his son Jaden was the real star of the movie. In “Ender’s Game,” Butterfield’s character Ender was the center of the story, but it was Ford who was the most prominent in the run-up to the release. He did a great job of it, deflecting criticism of Card’s extreme comments, getting the most of his charming grumpiness in a GQ interview. He even pierced Jimmy Fallon’s ear on “Late Night.”

But while he may have brought in mature fans, it’s possible he turned off the tween hordes that Hollywood has been coveting since “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.”

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It’s impossible to quantify that sort of thing, beyond the demo numbers. Just like it’s impossible to tell exactly what impact, if any, the boycott had on the “Ender’s Game” grosses.

What’s known is that “Thor: The Dark World” is coming Friday, so there won’t be much room for adjustments. Disney’s Marvel sequel is coming in like gangbusters, having already rung up more than $100 million abroad in one weekend.

Two weeks after that, Lionsgate’s ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” will open. You don’t put up grosses like “The Hunger Games” did last year – nearly $700 million worldwide — without appealing to several demo groups, but there’s no doubt young women are the primary marketing target on that one.

And Katniss and Summit have shown they know how to hit a bulls-eye.