You'd probably never guess by looking at early box office estimates, but tens of thousands of movie-goers decided to boycott the theatrical debut of Lionsgate's (NYSE:LGF-A) Ender's Game this weekend.
For that, the studio can thank Orson Scott Card, who authored the film's namesake book and whose outspoken personal views on gay marriage have riled many.
But if preliminary numbers are any indication, Ender's Game is on track to earn between $25 million and $30 million in first-weekend box office receipts here in the U.S.
That should easily be enough to secure the top domestic spot this weekend ahead of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, which is holding up surprisingly well en route to a projected $17 million second-week take for Viacom's (NASDAQ:VIAB) Paramount Pictures as it flies in the face of fresh November competition.
Meanwhile, CBS (NYSE:CBS) Films' Last Vegas will likely arrive a close third during its own first weekend with an estimated $15 million to $17 million gross, despite the significant star power CBS brought in with headliners including Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.
Nesting into fourth place is Relativity Media's fellow newcomer, a $55 million Thanksgiving comedy titled Free Birds, which saw a slow start foretelling a soft stateside weekend total in the range of $14 million to $15 million.
For some perspective, around this time last week Viacom was jumping for joy given the projected $25 million opening weekend for Bad Grandpa. However, when all was said and done last Monday, Bad Grandpa managed to oust even Warner Brothers' Gravity from its three-weekend reign, earning an impressive $32 million from domestic audiences alone.
Don't be surprised, then, if Ender's Game's official debut weekend total also easily exceeds the $30 million mark.
Here's why it may not be enough
But keep in mind Bad Grandpa only cost Viacom around $15 million to produce, or just one eighth of the staggering $110 million required to bring Ender's Game to the big screen.
However, it's also worth noting Lionsgate not only hedged its bets by financing just 20% of that total -- pinning most of the production cost on Oddlot Entertainment and Digital Domain -- but also limited risk by selling foreign distribution rights to the film.
As it stands, the latter increasingly looks like a great move, especially considering Disney (NYSE:DIS) Marvel's Thor: The Dark World rumbled to an incredible $45.2 million overseas opening Friday, putting it on pace for a potential $100 million international weekend debut.
For reference, that'd be well ahead of the $89 million its predecessor took in during its own wide international weekend launch in April 2011 -- though the first Thor had also already earned around $5.7 million the weekend before with its early Australia premiere, an event held largely thanks to the fact lead actor Chris Hemsworth hails from the country.
But with Thor: The Dark World opening in North American theaters next Friday, it seems safe to say Ender's Game may have more than a little trouble maintaining adequate sales momentum going forward to make up for its lofty budget.
And while it's possible Ender's Game ticket sales could pick up the pace as its foreign distribution expands, I think it'll have its hands full there, too, considering nearly 60% of the first Thor's $449.3 million in total box office receipts came from international audiences.
In short, though Lionsgate and Ender's Game may have orchestrated a convincing opening weekend box office win in the U.S., from here on out I'm betting Disney and Thor: The Dark World will be calling the shots.