"The Fault in Our Stars" and "Edge of Tomorrow" do battle at the multiplexes this weekend in a fight to determine if ticket-buyers will turn up for a summer movie that doesn't involve superheros, iconic monsters or fairy tale rehashes.
In one corner, there's Warner Bros.' "Edge of Tomorrow," an $178 million adventure that offers up Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and a trippy plot that involves perpetual reincarnation and alien invasion. In the other, is 20th Century Fox's "The Fault in Our Stars" with "it girl" Shailene Woodley, a crack social media campaign and a tear-jerking premise about young lovers who meet in a support group for cancer patients.
For now, give the edge to "The Fault in Our Stars" which could debut to between $35 million to $40 million when it unspools in 3,171 theaters. Fox is more conservative with its estimates, putting a likely opening in the mid-$20 million range. Either way, the picture will almost certainly double or triple its $12 million production cost in a single weekend.
"Edge of Tomorrow" struggled to gain traction in the crowded summer field and suffered from a touch of deja vu with comparisons bubbling up to Cruise's other, recent futuristic thriller "Oblivion." However, reviews for the picture have been strong, and it currently holds a 91% "fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes. A debut in the high $20 million range across more than 3,490 locations looks likely, which would be a disappointment for such an expensive film.
The picture's future will likely be determined by foreign crowds, where Cruise is a big draw, and word-of-mouth. Abroad, "Edge of Tomorrow" debuted in 28 markets last weekend, where it racked up a mediocre $20 million. It expands to more than 30 foreign territories including such major markets as China, Russia, Mexico and Australia.
Both films represent that rarest of commodities. They aren't derived from a global toy or comic book brand. Although both are based on books, they are what passes for "original" in an era of remakes, reboots and sequels.
"It's just hard in today's environment to make movies that are big movies that are based on original scripts," Erwin Stoff, the producer of "Edge of Tomorrow," told Variety at the film's New York premiere. "They're are not that many that aren't based on some property or some franchise that already comes with its own built-in audience. It' s a really hard, risky thing to do today."
In the case of "The Fault in Our Stars," a lack of explosions and CGI may be one of the film's most potent selling points.
"In a world that's just wall-to-wall action spectacle, people are ready for a film that's a love story that's just about characters," Wyck Godfrey, the film's producer, said.
The two debuts aren't the only films that will be vying for the box office crown. "Maleficent," which debuted to nearly $70 million last weekend, is expected to generate roughly $35 million in its second week of release. The re-imagining of "Sleeping Beauty" drove a large female crowd, with women accounting for 60% of its opening weekend audience.
"We saw how female-centric 'Maleficent' turned out to be, so 'Fault' may take a bigger bite out of that market than people expect," Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, said. "Every woman I know is planning to see this with her friends. As far as summer romances, it's the only thing out there."
For "The Fault in Our Stars" to break the $30 million mark, the picture will need to not only bring in high school girls. It will have to broaden the audience to include their mothers and older women, as well.
Among the weekend's other holdovers, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" should pull in $15 million, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is projected to shoot up $8.5 million and "Godzilla" will likely rack up $6 million.
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