Tom Cruise is no match for kids with cancer—at least if early ticket sales are any measure. It seems that Edge of Tomorrow, an alien-fighting film staring one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, won’t be nearly as lucrative in its box-office debut as The Fault in Our Stars, an adaptation of a popular young-adult novel.
BoxOfficeMojo expects the teen cancer drama to drum up $45 million in U.S. ticket sales this weekend, compared with $32 million for Edge of Tomorrow—a projection that would best a string of recent sci-fi action movie debuts, including Pacific Rim, RoboCop, and Oblivion, last year’s Cruise-vs.-aliens film. YouTube (GOOG) alone provides an additional telling metric: By Friday afternoon, the Fault trailer had been streamed 20.6 million times while the Cruise vehicle had amassed just 7.8 million clicks.
The teen weeper also promises to be far more profitable. Edge of Tomorrow, heavy on special effects, cost Warner Bros. (TWX) an estimated $100 million—about 10 times more than Fox (FOXA) paid to make The Fault In Our Stars.
In the ultimate spectrum of the summer movie season, both films will have been relatively small events. But the match-up underscores how the equation is changing for a hit film in Hollywood. These days, a built-in fan base—mobilized by Facebook (FB), fiction, or both—can be more powerful than a mega-famous leading actor. If tens of millions of people are already familiar with the storyline, filmmakers doesn’t need to invest in well-known talent. Before the first Hunger Games film, for example, Jennifer Lawrence was no household name.
There are almost 11 million copies of the book version of Fault in circulation, and author John Green is a one-man marketing machine. Some 2.2 million people subscribe to the video blog he runs with his brother. An early screening of Fault pulled in $8.2 million late Thursday night, thanks to a big simulcast event. Eager fans paid about $25 apiece to see the movie and watch a live Q&A with Green and the cast.
Producer Wyck Godrey calls Fault “an anti-blockbuster” and likens Green to John Hughes, the force behind such 1980s teen dramas as The Breakfast Club. When Hughes was promoting those films, however, he didn’t have a Twitter (TWTR) account.
The executives holding the green light at Fox might have simply considered supply and demand. For those in the market for explosions and high-def creatures, there is no shortage of options in theaters this summer. A tear-jerker about young love and cancer? The field is virtually empty.