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‘Paper Towns’ Faces Uphill Battle to Match ‘Fault In Our Stars’ Breakout Box Office

Then again, who wants to bet against the hordes of teenage girls targeted by the John Green romance adaptation?

“Paper Towns,” the teen-targeting drama that opens Friday, has a lot in common with the last film adaptation of another John Green bestseller, “The Fault In Our Stars.”

Like that one, it’s a Fox 2000 romance aimed directly at adolescent girls with a screenplay by Scott Neusfelder and Michael H. Weber. It’s also produced by Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, the team behind the “Twilight”movies, and has a similarly lean $12 million production budget. And rabid young fans of Green have again cranked up the social media machine for “Paper Towns,” albeit to a lesser degree.

But it will be very difficult to match the breakout box office success of the teary “Fault in Our Stars,” which took in $307 million at the global box office last summer for Godfrey and Bowen’s Temple Hill and 20th Century Fox, making it one of 2014’s most profitable releases.

“That one caught lightning in a bottle,” said Chris Aronson, who as Fox’s head of distribution had a front-row seat for its stunning $48 million debut last June. “You can’t really expect that to happen again.”

Tracking and analysts say he’s right, with “Paper Towns” projected to register around $20 million in its first three days. That would put it behind Sony’s debuting Adam Sandler video game comedy “Pixels,” Disney’s reigning champ “Ant-Man” and Universal’s animated kids film “Minions,” which is in its third week. All three are projected to come in at around $25 million. Also opening is the Jake Gyllenhaal boxing drama “Southpaw” from the Weinstein Company, which is looking at around $12 million.

There are several reasons “Paper Towns” isn’t expected to take off like “Fault,” though its favorable reviews are comparable and it’s getting a similar social media boost from legions of young girls who adore Green.

For starters, it’s facing much more diversified competition than “Fault,” which debuted against Tom Cruise’s male-skewing sci-fi thriller “Edge of Tomorrow.” Stars Nat Woolf and Cara Delevingne don’t have the same heat as Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, who starred in the first “Divergent” film three months earlier. Furthermore, the tone of the PG-13 “Paper Towns” is darker and features some sex, enough to fuel calls for its prohibition from some middle school reading lists.

Where “Fault” was so heart-tugging it detoured into sappy for some, the John Schreier-directed “Paper Towns” has edge. The title refers to small towns that exist only on maps, placed there to protect against copyright infringement, and the plot deals with a teen boy’s gradual realization that there’s far more to the neighbor girl he falls for than meets the eye.

Despite the steep odds against it matching “Fault” at the box office, every parent and little brother knows the unique power a pack of teenage girls can wield, so a breakout isn’t totally out of the question.

“Anything’s possible,” said Aronson.