Despite threats of a boycott, Ender's Game rocketed to an easy win at the box office this weekend, giving November a strong start after an unpredictable October.
The Harrison Ford sci-fi adaptation collected $28 million, according to studio estimates from Rentrak.
The debut met most analysts' expectations despite announced boycotts by several organizations protesting the anti-gay marriage comments by the book's author, Orson Scott Card. The gay rights group Geeks OUT said that it had more than 11,000 signatures on its "Skip Ender's Game" petition.
The organization said Sunday it wasn't discouraged by the No. 1 debut. " 'Skip Ender's Game' was a grass-roots campaign with the primary goal of raising awareness of author Orson Scott Card's activism against the LGBT community," says Geeks OUT spokesman Patrick Yacco. "To that end, we succeeded beyond our own expectations."
The movie earned a thumbs-up from most critics, scoring a 62% approval rating, according to Rottentomatoes.com. Fans were higher on the outer space saga, giving the film a collective grade of B+, says pollsters Cinemascore.
While Ender's managed a convincing box office win despite protests, analysts say the next few weeks will determine whether distributor Lionsgate has a viable fantasy series off the ground.
"Not exactly the instant franchise Lionsgate was hoping for," says Tim Briody, analyst for Boxofficeprophets.com. "But things could have gone worse."
The studio said Sunday that it considered the weekend a "solid opening in North America falling in line with the studio's pre-weekend expectations."
Last Vegas, the Hangover-for-seniors comedy starring Robert De Niro and Morgan Freeman, also met most expectations. Despite tough reviews - just 42% of critics liked it, Rottentomatoes.com says - the movie met most projections with $16.5 million, good for third place and meeting most projections.
The only other major newcomer, the animated comedy Free Birds, had a middling flight. The Owen Wilson cartoon met its modest projections with $16.2 million, putting it in fourth place.
While the numbers are respectable, Hollywood may be reaching a cartoon saturation tipping point, analysts say. "The industry has learned the hard way this year that there are too many animated films rolling into theaters," says Gitesh Pandya, analyst for Boxofficeguru.com. He said overwhelmingly negative reviews persuaded parents to "wait for this one on video."
One film likely not to face that problem: Thor: The Dark World. The Chris Hemsworth superhero sequel has thundered to a strong $109.4 million in 36 countries since Wednesday, Disney says. The film arrives on U.S. shores Friday.
The Jackass comedy Bad Grandpa took second with $20.5 million, while the Sandra Bullock space odyssey Gravity rounded out the top five with $13.1 million.
Final figures are due Monday.