Written and directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner Tsotsi), and featuring Asa Butterfield (the star in Martin Scorsese's Hugo), Best Actor Oscar nominee Harrison Ford (Witness), Best Actor Oscar winner Ben Kingsley (Gandhi), two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis (Doubt, The Help), and Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominees Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), the futuristic adventure drama Ender's Game will easily top the North American box office chart this weekend, November 1-3, 2013. The Summit Entertainment / Lionsgate Pictures release is based on the 1985 novel (itself based on a 1977 short story/novella) by Orson Scott Card, an outspoken author and essayist reviled by many because of his rabidly anti-gays views. (More on that below. And in all fairness, Orson Scott Card is also widely admired by like-minded family friendly, devoutly religious, apple-pie-eating folks.)
'Ender's Game': Not a bad start – but not a solid one either
Ender's Game collected an estimated $9.9 million in the U.S. and Canada on Friday, including $1.4 million from Thursday night / Friday midnight showings, according to figures found at Box Office Mojo. That was not a bad start for the film – nor was it a remarkable one.
In fact, Ender's Game is expected to gross around $30 million by Sunday evening. Once again, that's not a bad start – that is, until one considers that the sci-fier cost a reported $110 million (not including marketing and distribution costs), that it's supposed to be the first installment of a (potential) movie franchise, and that it'll face steep competition next weekend from Alan Taylor and Chris Hemsworth's Thor: The Dark World, and, later this month, from Francis Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. (Sunday update: Ender's Game debuted with a worse than expected $28 million, as per studio estimates.)
'Twilight' and 'The Hunger Games': Recent bestseller-to-screen success stories
In recent years, when it comes to film adaptations of bestselling novels for young adults, true success stories have been limited to:
- The Twilight franchise, based on Stephenie Meyer's romantic fantasy novels, and whose success was chiefly a consequence of fans' wholeheartedly embracing stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner.
- The Hunger Games franchise, based on Suzanne Collins' literary mix of adventure, romance, and dystopia, and successfully sold (especially in North America) as a prestigious "event" movie – a sort of Twilight that would appeal not only to young women, but to young men and adults as well.
Directed by Gary Ross, and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth, the first The Hunger Games, which shares a number of elements in common with Ender's Game, also had the advantage of generally enthusiastic reviews. Ender's Game, on the other hand, has a mediocre 53 percent approval rating and 5.8/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics. (See also: "'Ender's Game' Movie Review.")
It should be noted that the Twilight movies were Summit Entertainment releases, while The Hunger Games movies are Lionsgate releases. The two studios are now one.
So, will Ender's Game become the next franchise Summit / Lionsgate franchise? It's too early to tell, but the odds aren't great, especially considering the film's relatively modest opening last weekend in the United Kingdom ($1.87 million) and Germany ($796k), which presage a less than stellar international box office performance.
Besides the aforementioned talent, the 2013 Ender's Game movie features Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Jimmy 'Jax' Pinchak, Moises Arias, Khylin Rhambo, Caleb J. Thaggart, Nonso Anozie, Conor Carroll, Cameron Gaskins, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Andrea Powell, Kyle Russell Clements, Wendy Miklovic, Jasmine Kaur, Brandon Soo Hoo, and Han Soto.
Official weekend box office estimates will be released Sunday morning. Weekend box office actuals come out on Monday.
'Ender's Game' Author Orson Scott Card anti-gay views
There has been talk of anti-Ender's Game boycotts and the like, but nothing of the kind seems to have taken place despite Orson Scott Card's history of vicious anti-gay attacks. In 1990, five years after Ender's Game came out, the Mormon author wrote an essay for the Mormon-geared magazine Sunstone, stating that laws banning same-sex acts should "remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society."
A few months ago, Card claimed that he no longer believed in what he wrote, as laws banning gay sex in the United States have been deemed unconstitutional (though they're still in the books and remain in use in a number of U.S. states).
Also worth noting, in a 2008 essay Orson Scott Card asserted that any government that tried to recognize same-sex marriage would be deemed a "mortal enemy":
I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.
Biological imperatives trump laws. [The] American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.
For about four years, Card was a board of directors member of the National Organization for Marriage, which recently equated the legalization of gay marriage to the legalization of incestuous marriage. Card resigned from the Board only a few months prior to the release of Ender's Game.
You can find out more about Card's anti-gay writings – e.g., "The dark secret of homosexual society – the one that dares not speak its name – is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse ... " – on the GLAAD website.
Note: Summit and Lionsgate insist that Orson Scott Card, though a credited producer on Ender's Game, will not benefit directly from the movie's box office gross; instead, Card received his film adaptation benefits about a decade ago, when, according to reports, he got paid for the rights to his novel without any back-end deals. Yet, Ender's Game book sales will undoubtedly benefit from all the publicity surrounding the film's release – and so will the book's bigoted author.
Asa Butterfield Ender's Game photo: Summit Entertainment / Lionsgate Pictures.