‘Ender’s Game’ Could Win Box-Office Battle but Lose the Franchise-Launch War

Summit’s thriller based on Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel should top ‘Free Birds” and “Last Vegas” with $25M, but will it be enough?

Last Updated: July 10, 2014 @ 8:27 PM

“Ender’s Game” is the clear-cut favorite to win the box office this weekend with around $25 million, topping two other wide openers, the animated turkey tale “Free Birds” and the geriatric bachelor party comedy “Last Vegas.”

But it’s far less certain whether the thriller based on Orson Scott Card’s classic 1985 sci-fi novel can launch the young adult franchise that Summit Entertainment, Odd Lot Entertainment and Digital Domain envisioned. The effects firm created the film’s futuristic world and helped bankroll its $100 million production.

Also read: Will ‘Ender’s Game’ Rescue the Struggling Visual Effects Industry?

The turkey tale “Free Birds,” which features the voices of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson, is a good bet to finish second with about $18 million, analysts say. Third place is looking like a battle between a bunch of old guys: Both last week’s No. 1 film, “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” and CBS Films’ “Last Vegas” – starring Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline – are projected to land around $14 million their opening weekend.

“Ender’s Game” has the ingredients to be a young adult franchise: It has a huge built-in base from Card’s book – which has climbed back atop the best-seller list – and a plot featuring a young genius trained to be the fiercest warrior on an Earth threatened by aliens.

Asa Butterfield, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld star, along with Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci produce, and it is directed by Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”).

Also read: ‘Ender’s Game’ Review: Complex Sci-Fi Adventure That Appeals to Children’s Inner Adults

The huge success of the “Twilight” movies, which took in $3.3 billion globally for Summit, and the nearly $700 million haul of last year’s “The Hunger Games” — have fueled Hollywood’s drive to find next the Bella or Katniss and launch a franchise. But capturing the attention of teenagers isn’t easy, and Warner Bros.’ “Beautiful Creatures,” Open Road’s “The Host” and Sony’s “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” have all tried and failed this year.

Card’s negative comments about President Obama and gay marriage won’t help “Ender’s Game.” A group called Geeks Out has called for a boycott and more than 11,000 people have signed a “Skip Ender’s Game” petition on the site.

Summit’s parent Lionsgate, Ford and Hood have all distanced themselves from Card’s comments, but that’s not the best red-carpet fodder for promoting a movie.

Also read: Harrison Ford: ‘Enders Game’ Author Orson Scott Card’s Gay Marriage Views Not an Issue

It has solid tracking and reviews (69 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), and late Wednesday was leading sales for new releases at online ticket broker Fandango, ahead of Tom Cruise’s “Oblivion,” Matt Damon’s “Elysium” and Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” at the same point in their sales cycles.

“Ender’s Game” isn’t strong on social media, however. Its Twitter mentions and Facebook “likes” trail those of Disney’s 2012 sci-fi flop “John Carter,” according to BoxOffice.com.

Summit has it in roughly 3,407 theaters and it will take over most of the Imax screens that “Gravity” has been on, but the PG-13-rated “Ender’s Game” isn’t in 3D and won’t get that box-office bump.

See video: ‘Ender’s Game’ Trailer: Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld Are a ‘New Kind of Soldier’

“Free Birds” is the first full-length animated feature for Relativity and Reel FX, who co-produced and financed the holiday project for a relatively modest $55 million.

free.birds.insideThe first week in November has been a traditionally strong launch date for animated films and the 3D Thanksgiving yarn should benefit from being the freshest family offering.  Sony’s “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” is still playing solidly but is heading into its fifth week, and Disney’s “Frozen” won’t open until Nov. 27. The Nov. 11 Veterans Day school holiday should help, too.

Also read: ‘Free Birds’ Review: This Animated Thanksgiving Comedy Is Pure Gobble-dygook

In “Free Birds,” two turkeys travel back in time to change the course of history — and get turkey off the holiday menu for good.

Director Jimmy Hayward’s last movie was the flop “Jonah Hex,” but the one before that was the animated “Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who,” which took in nearly $300 million globally for Fox in 2008.

Relativity has the PG-rated “Free Birds” in a market-high 3,700-plus theaters, many of which will provide 3D premiums.

The ensemble comedy “Last Vegas” is aimed directly at mature moviegoers, and CBS Films is counting on it playing solidly for several weeks.

last.vegas.fourguysIt’s tracking along the lines of the 2012 comedy “Hope Springs,” which opened to $14 million and went on to take in $63 million domestically, $114 million globally. That would work for CBS, since “Last Vegas” cost $28 million to make.

Also read: ‘Last Vegas’ Review: Robert De Niro + Michael Douglas + Morgan Freeman = Grumpy Old Hangover

In it, three 60-something pals (De Niro, Kline and Freeman) throw a Sin City bachelor party for their last remaining single pal (Douglas). Jon Turteltaub (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) directs from a script by Dan Fogelman (“Guilt Trip”).

The critics are lukewarm, and it has a 46 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

CBS will have it in roughly 2,800 theaters.

Several Oscar hopefuls will also be factors this weekend

The 3D space saga “Gravity” and Tom Hanks’ piracy saga “Captain Phillips” have continued to hold well, and Fox Searchlight is expanding “12 Years a Slave,” which cracked the top ten last week, into 44 additional markets and has upped the theater count to a little more than 400.

On the specialty front, Universal is opening the Rachel McAdams-Tom Holland romantic comedy “About Time” in around 175 theaters, and Focus Features is rolling out the Matthew McConaughey-Jared Leto AIDS-themed drama “Dallas Buyers Club” in six New York and L.A. theaters.