Box office preview: 'Ender's Game' ready for battle

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Image Credit: Summit

Just one week after Gravity bequeathed its box office throne to Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, another space tale will likely soar into the top spot at the U.S. marketplace. The long-awaited adaptation of sci-fi classic Ender’s Game hits theaters this weekend, and though it should be able to score a solid win, its tracking leaves a lot to be desired. Two other films are also opening: the elder statesmen comedy Last Vegas and the animated Thanksgiving tale Free Birds. Neither are expected to bring too much cha-ching.

Here’s how the box office might shake out:

1. Ender’s Game – $26 million
Summit and OddLot Entertainment co-financed this $110 million adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s beloved sci-fi novel about a young boy who is recruited to a military school in space and manipulated by every adult around him. The film stars Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield in the title role, as well as Harrison Ford as Colonel Hyrum Graff. Curiously, Summit has all but hidden Butterfield in Ender’s Game‘s marketing campaign, instead focusing almost exclusively on Ford. Granted, he’s an iconic superstar with multi-generational appeal, but you’d think that Lionsgate, Summit’s parent company, would have learned the importance of establishing a protagonist from its remarkably successful Hunger Games campaign.

Tracking for Ender’s Game has been relatively mild, and the controversy surrounding Card’s views on gay marriage have garnered negative publicity for the film. But the reality is that young adult fantasy franchises are notoriously difficult to launch. For every Hunger Games or Harry Potter, there are many more bombs like Beautiful Creatures or The Mortal Instruments, and there’s rarely a clear reason why giant literary hits don’t connect on screen. YA fans are a rather fickle bunch — though Ender’s Game has been a hit since 1985, and it has a legion of older fans as well. Thus, Ender’s Game won’t stoop as low as Mortal Instruments, but it might perform similarly to Eragon ($23 million opening, $75 million total) or The Spiderwick Chronicles ($19 million, $71 million). Opening in 3,407 theaters, expect the film to earn about $26 million this weekend.

2. Free Birds – $21 million
Relativity’s $55 million animated comedy about turkeys traveling back in time to get themselves off the Thanksgiving menu should gobble up a good grosses this weekend since its the first animated movie hitting screens since Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 six weeks ago. Families starved for kiddie fare will flock to the Amy Poehler-voiced flick, even though some will be turned off by the complicated storyline. Still, the film should play just about as well as Planes, which took off with $22 million. I’m expecting a similar flight for Free Birds, which opens ultra-wide in 3,736 theaters.

3. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa – $15 million
With a young target audience that turned out in droves last weekend, the Johnny Knoxville prank film is headed for a steep sophomore drop. Not that it will matter. A 55-percent dip would give Bad Grandpa $15 million for the weekend and $56 million total — all against a $15 million budget. The hidden camera comedy is already a huge winner for Paramount.

4. Last Vegas – $14 million
Films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Hope Springs, and The Bucket List have demonstrated the purchasing power of older moviegoers at the box office. Senior patrons don’t necessarily rush to theaters on opening weekend, but if a film can garner strong word-of-mouth, they will gradually turn out over the course of a couple months. As such, CBS Films isn’t expecting the $28 million comedy Last Vegas, which stars Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Robert DeNiro, to hit the jackpot this weekend, but they’re hoping for a long, lucrative run. The concept — aging friends hit up Las Vegas — is an easy sell, and the film may win about $14 million from 3,065 locations.

5. Gravity – $13.5 million
Warner Bros. has already earned doubled Gravity‘s $100 million budget domestically, and another $13.5 million weekend will give the space drama an amazing $219 million total after five weekends.

Check back all weekend to see how high Ender will fly.

CORRECTION: This post originally labeled Free Birds‘ budget as $35 million. The correct number is $55 million. It has been amended.

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