Despite inciting a threatened boycott, the new sci-fi film Ender's Game could finish as the No. 1-grossing movie of the weekend. But the holiday-movie season likely will need to wait for a certain Norse god to take off.
Box-office forecasters were calling for Ender's Game, playing in some theaters Thursday night in advance of Friday's formal opening, to post a three-day debut in the mid-$20 millions.
That could be enough for the film, starring Harrison Ford and 16-year-old Asa Butterfield (Hugo), to take the weekend crown over the CGI-animated family film Free Birds, also formally opening Friday.
Then again, it might not be enough.
"The odds right now have Ender's Game taking the box-office belt," Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock said via email, "but [audience] tracking has been increasing all week for Relativity's toon."
Neither Ender's Game nor Free Birds is expected to match the nearly $50 million that Wreck-It Ralph grossed on the same weekend last year—a weekend that marks the start of the holiday box office.
The first monster hit of the 2013 holiday season should be the new Thor movie, Thor: The Dark World, opening Nov. 8. The Chris Hemsworth-led sequel could spell the end of Ender's Game, according to Bock.
"If Ender's Game doesn't blast off with close to $30 million," Bock said, "it will surely be considered a disappointment as it isn't expected to be relevant once the mighty Thor swings his hammer."
Ender's Game has courted controversy over the anti-gay-marriage views and writings of Orson Scott Card, who authored the same-titled 1985 young-adult novel on which the Gavin Hood-directed movie is based. The film's studio, Lionsgate, went so far as to issue a statement in advance of San Diego Comic-Con to proclaim it disagreed with Card. On Thursday, insiders made it known, via a report on TheWrap.com, that Card "won't make squat" from the movie.
A soft start for Ender's Game (or Free Birds) would come on the heels of a weak fall season for Hollywood. Despite the blockbuster success of Gravity, the overall box office has been running nearly 25 percent behind last fall's, per BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Still, there is cause to be bullish for the remainder of the 2013 holiday box-office slate. Ben Carlson, president and cocreator of the social-media monitor Fizziology, said this season looks to match the 2012 season, buzz for buzz, and maybe gross for gross. (The 2012 holiday season took in $2.6 billion domestically, the most since 2009.) Thor: The Dark World could be this November's Skyfall, he said; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (opening Nov. 22) should be Thanksgiving's Breaking Dawn—Part 2, and so on.
"A lot of these films have a direct correlation," Carlson said, "[Overall buzz] is slightly bigger this year thanks to Anchorman."
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, due out Dec. 20, and currently looking hot on the buzz meter, per Carlson, thanks to star Will Ferrell's Dodge Durango tie-in ad campaign, could be the big live-action comedy hit that the 2012 holiday-movie season lacked.