Warning: This article contains plot spoilers!
This weekend, sci-fi fans around the world will rejoice as one of their favorite cult classic novels finally hits the big screen.
To be sure, expectations are huge for the weekend box office debut of Ender's Game, which is being distributed by Lionsgate (NYSE:LGF-A) and reportedly required around $110 million to produce. For reference, remember Lionsgate brought the first installment of The Hunger Games to theaters with a production budget of "just" $78 million, an effort that resulted in a mammoth $691 million in gross global ticket sales last year.
For those of you who aren't familiar, Ender's Game is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, and revolves around a young boy named Ender Wiggins who believes he's being groomed by international military forces through a series of battle training simulations -- all in the name of supposedly preparing Earth's defenses for a potential repeat of an earlier alien invasion.
I'll do my best not to ruin its stunning ending, but let's just say that, short of the challenge of adequately cramming sufficient character development into a two-hour film -- a problem Hunger Games audiences incidentally had little trouble overlooking -- there's a reason Ender's Game fans have been clamoring for a big-budget movie adaptation for nearly 30 years.
There's just one problem
But not everybody's celebrating.
In fact, many have called for a boycott of Ender's Game ever since its production was made known, thanks primarily to the fact that, for decades, Orson Scott Card has remained an outspoken opponent of gay marriage.
Now before I go any further, I'd like to be clear I'm not here to debate that hot-button topic.
With that in mind, from an investment perspective, this absolutely begs the multi-million dollar question: Will the boycotts stop the potential box office prowess of Ender's Game before it even begins?
To be fair, both Lionsgate and the rest of the film's creative team publicly responded to the controversy in July, saying they do "not agree with the personal views of Orson Scott Card." What's more, Lionsgate was quick to remind movie-goers of its own long-standing LGBT-friendly policies and asserted,
The simple fact is that neither the underlying book nor the film itself reflect these views in any way, shape or form. On the contrary, the film not only transports viewers to an entertaining and action-filled world, but it does so with positive and inspiring characters who ultimately deliver an ennobling and life-affirming message. Lionsgate will continue its long-standing commitment to the LGBT community by exploring new ways we can support LGBT causes and, as part of this ongoing process, will host a benefit premiere for ENDER'S GAME.
In addition, according to sources at TheWrap, it's worth noting multiple people close to the movie recently confirmed Card's fee for the film adaptation of his work "has already been paid through a decade-old deal that includes no backend" -- so Card stands to earn no movie-based royalties or performance incentives from the film.
What's more, and further lending credence to Lionsgate's argument, though Card does get a producer credit, he apparently had no say or creative influence on the making of this weekend's movie.
Even so, that's little consolation for the folks who simply can't stand the fact the film they'd be watching is the direct result of Card's past creativity. And even though none of its proceeds will find their way into Card's already-deep pockets, you can bet the movie will undoubtedly result in a massive increase in visibility and sales for his existing written works.
But in the end, will any of the outcry stemming from Orson Scott Card's personal views negatively affect the film's performance to any great extent?
I doubt it.
After all, for every person adamantly opposed to seeing Ender's Game because of their distaste for Card, it seems safe to say there's probably another on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
Here's the real threat to Ender's Game
If anything's going to derail the success of Ender's Game, I think it'll be its fellow movie contenders at the weekend box office, the competition for which kicks off tomorrow with the simultaneous release of Relativity Media's animated Thanksgiving flick, Free Birds. Even more troubling, Disney's (NYSE:DIS) bringing the thunder the following weekend with the Nov. 8 release of its Marvel-inspired blockbuster Thor: The Dark World.
Sure, all three films could find a way to peacefully coexist, but don't be surprised if Free Birds demonstrates impressive staying power this month thanks to the timing of its target holiday. Remember, Relativity and Universal found massive success using the same tactics two Easters ago with the April 1, 2011, release of Hop, for which gross sales unsurprisingly increased nearly 14% during its fourth weekend.
Going forward -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- few expect Thor to fail given the demigod's unmistakable association as an integral part of Marvel's The Avengers, which itself grossed more than $1.5 billion in global box office sales for Disney last year and secured its place as the third-highest grossing movie in history. In the end, while Free Birds is clearly a less direct threat to Ender's Game's target audience, Disney's Thor sequel boasts unrivaled potential to absolutely decimate Ender's Game's follow-on weekend sales.