Ender's Game won the U.S. box office this weekend with an estimated $28 million in ticket sales from 3,407 theaters. While this is a solid start for the movie - and better than feared - the numbers pale in comparison with similar big-budget sci-fi starts in 2013. Ender's opening weekend was way off from Pacific Rim and Oblivion (both over $37 million), and was about on par with After Earth ($27.5 million).
The $110 million budget film will have to hold strong for a few weeks and play well in Europe to find financial success, which would support additional sequels. Unfortuately it doesn't look that way at the moment. Ender's Game opened very weak in the two biggest markets in Europe, with just $1.87 million in the United Kingdom (opened 5th place last weekend) and $800,000 in Germany where it opened 6th place.
To put these numbers in perspective: Thor: The Dark World, which opens in the U.S. on Friday and will be tough direct competition for Ender's Game, turned in about $110 million internationally last week, opened in the U.K. with $13.4 million and brought in $7.9 million from Germany - on the opening weekend. It is hard to imagine Thor not crushing Ender's numbers and marginalizing its audience this coming weekend in the US. And with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opening later this month it will be really tough for Ender's Game to show a strong hold with the general audience.
It looks like a decision on possible Ender's Game sequels won't be made before early next year when the movie opens in the world's second and third biggest markets, China and Japan.
The most positive takeaway from the opening weekend is that the audience generally likes the film. The audience score at Rotten Tomatoes climbed from 76% on Saturday (47,869 users) to 78% this morning (53,478 users). Similar at IMDb where the audience rates the film a 7.2 (9,064 votes) now, up from 7.0 (3,438 votes) on Saturday. The Ender News Review-O-Meter is tracking 187 English-language reviews for an average critics score of 68%, which is also pretty decent for the sci-fi genre.
So why is the movie not getting better, bigger numbers at the box office? As I wrote about two weeks ago on this blog, it was my concern that "the most avid group of moviegoers in the U.S., teenagers and young adults age 12 to 24, could have been addressed much better by promoting the young cast beyond what has been done so far," and if we look a bit deeper into the reported numbers, it looks like my concerns were warranted.
According to distributor Lionsgate/Summit, the movie's audience was 58 percent male and 54 percent over the age of 25. Ender's Game did not create much of a buzz with a young audience beyond those familiar with the original story. When we challenged the studio to "make a wide-release Ender's Game trailer with no adults. It's a story about kids, after all," it was for a good reason.
Box Office Mojo summed it up nicely today:
Marketing emphasized Harrison Ford's gruff military commander while failing to show what it is about Ender that makes him worth rooting for. This kept the movie from really connecting with those who aren't familiar with the source material, which is the key to success in the adaptation game.