It's been less than a year since Lion's Gate's (NYSE:LGF-A) cinematic vision of Ender's Game concluded its theatrical run. But for fans of the Enderverse, there's been frustratingly little news regarding the potential franchise since then.
When Ender's Game started with a solid $27 million domestic weekend debut last November, I was already wondering whether a sequel could be on its way. After all, the film's creative team had not only expressed interest in such a project but also had a slew of different story lines to expand upon, including as many as 13 separate novels, a series of short stories, and several dozen comic book issues.
Unfortunately, Ender's Game seemed to fall short in the one place it really counts these days: money. Shortly after its launch, Lions Gate CEO Jon Feltheimer admitted that the $27 million open was right at the "base case" for the $110 million film. Over the next 10 weeks, Ender's Game had collected just $125.5 million in worldwide box office receipts, leading many entertainment industry pundits to dub it one of 2013's biggest flops.
Game over? Not yet.
But that hardly means a sequel isn't in the cards. In fact, I'm convinced Lions Gate intends to bring back the battle-oriented prodigy -- though perhaps not in the way you might think.
Lions Gate bought the movie and television rights to certain Ender's Game books from author Orson Scott Card more than a decade ago. And for anyone boycotting Card's outspoken personal views, note that he doesn't directly profit from the deal, as it has no back end. But according to Ender's Game producer Robert Orci in an interview earlier this year, Lions Gate has also mulled whether to opt for an original Ender's Game story that deviates at least in part from those books.
What's more, while its easy to focus on the prominent money-making machine that is the box office, don't forget about what happens after the big screen. Consider, for example, Feltheimer's comments during Lions Gate's Nov. 8, 2013, earnings conference call:
With two financial partners and a business model designed to mitigate risk, [Ender's Game] will become our 25th profitable film out of our last 30. [...] It came in virtually exactly on our base case. We're going to wait for a week or two to see how it finishes out, but we think it's a great piece of IP. And we'll talk to our partners about what the future plans are, whether it's for sequels or television or other ancillary possibilities we have.
On those "ancillary possibilities"
The first thing that jumps out: "two financial partners." With the support of co-financiers OddLot Entertainment and Digital Domain 3.0, Lions Gate virtually ensured that any box office disappointment from Ender's Game wouldn't be a significant near-term drag on its bottom line. Assuming it could do so again, a sequel might well be worth its time and investment.
But how could Feltheimer so confidently state that Ender's Game would be profitable so soon after its release? One answer came during Lions Gate's subsequent conference call this past February -- which was roughly a month after it exited U.S. theaters -- when he elaborated that Ender's Game had "overperformed [their] expectations" when they chose to strategically release it as an early electronic sell-through, or EST, title (think platforms like Amazon.com's Instant Video or Apple's iTunes). While achieving profitability through the box office alone is ideal, it's no longer an absolute requirement, given the early promise and flexibility of EST sales.
Feltheimer's comments also make it clear if Lions Gate decides that a big-screen sequel isn't the right path, we shouldn't be surprised if they put together a small-screen series adaptation of Ender's Game. After all, though Lions Gate most recently saw broad strength across its entire business last quarter, Feltheimer named its television production segment as the main driver of those results. For that, investors can thank high-quality titles such as Mad Men, Orange Is the New Black, Nashville, and Anger Management. Call me crazy, but I think an Ender's Saga series would be a great addition to that list.
Whether Lions Gate specifically intends to make an Ender's Game sequel happen remains unclear. But one way or another, I don't think we've seen the last of Ender Wiggin.