NEW YORK – "Ender's Game," based on the science-fiction novel about a child warrior, topped U.S. and Canadian theaters this weekend, collecting $28 million for Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.
"Last Vegas" and "Free Birds," also making their debuts, finished third and fourth, respectively, researcher Rentrak Corp. said Sunday in an emailed statement.
Lions Gate, which has carved out a niche among younger viewers with hits including "The Hunger Games" and the "Twilight" films, is seeking to build a new teen franchise with "Ender's Game." The movie is likely to lose much of that audience next week when Walt Disney premieres "Thor: The Dark World," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of Boxofficeguru.com.
"The long-term prospects are very problematic," Pandya said in an interview Sunday. "You have the huge Thor film that's just going to clobber this movie" next weekend.
Social-media buzz for "Ender's Game" has been muted while statements from the book's author, Orson Scott Card, opposing gay marriage sparked calls for a boycott.
Lions Gate spent about $110 million making "Ender's Game," according to a person with knowledge of the matter. It was projected to generate $28 million the first weekend, according to researcher BoxOffice.com.
Lions Gate, based in Santa Monica, Calif., brought in investors and sold foreign rights, which will limit any potential losses.
The film stars Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin, a war-games whiz who's trained to battle aliens attacking Earth. Harrison Ford co-stars as his commander.
The movie, which also features Ben Kingsley, garnered a 65 percent rating by RottenTomatoes.com, which aggregates reviews.
"The movie is enthralling and the effects are totally great, though not great enough to keep your mind from wandering toward dark thoughts about what kind of society could produce this demented, militaristic poison," wrote Craig Seligman, a critic for Bloomberg News.
In addition to "Thor," set for wide release on Friday, "Ender's Game" faces competition for young audiences from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." The second installment in that series from Lions Gate opens on Nov. 22.
Author Card stirred controversy with his opposition to gay marriage, sparking calls for a boycott from the website Geeksout.org.
On his website, the author said some of his remarks have been taken out of context. Lions Gate responded to calls for a boycott by citing a longtime policy of offering benefits to employees' same-sex partners and the distribution of critically praised, gay-themed films.
"Last Vegas," which had sales of $16.5 million for CBS Films, stars Robert de Niro and Michael Douglas. It follows three 60-something friends who throw a bachelor party in the gambling city for their last remaining single buddy, Billy, played by Douglas. The movie, which also stars Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, earned negative reviews.
The film "has no reason for existence and nothing much to recommend it," wrote A. O. Scott in the New York Times.
It was projected to collect $15 million.
The animated "Free Birds" from Relativity Media placed fourth with $16.2 million, according to Rentrak. Featuring the voices of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson, "Free Birds" was projected to take in $17.5 million in its debut.
The movie, about two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks who travel back in time to change the first Thanksgiving menu, suffered from poor reviews ahead of its opening, garnering a 22 percent rating on RottenTomatoes.
"As after a junk food binge, 'Free Birds' is likely to leave audiences fuzzy-headed and vaguely nauseated instead of nourished and satisfied," wrote Miriam Bale in the New York Times.
"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa," a comedy from Paramount Pictures, fell to second with $20.5 million in sales after leading the film rankings last weekend. Starring Johnny Knoxville, the movie is the fourth since 2002 based on the "Jackass" MTV reality series.
"Gravity," from Warner Bros., had $13.1 million in receipts in fifth place. The film, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, has collected $219 million domestically since its debut.
Films in limited release include "Dallas Buyers Club," from NBCUniversal's Focus Features, starring Matthew McConaughey. The movie, a portrayal of AIDS activist Ron Woodroof, has garnered praise for McConaughey's performance as the Texas rodeo rider who is diagnosed with the disease in the mid-1980s. It had sales of $264,128 in nine theaters.
Weekend revenue for the top 10 films fell less than 1 percent to $118.3 million from the year-earlier period, Rentrak said. Revenue is up less than 1 percent this year to $8.86 billion.
Livesey reported from San Francisco. With assistance from Dan Hart in Washington