TIME movies

The Fault in Our Stars Falls to Earth

The cancer romancer based on John Green's best-seller took a Saturday hit on its way to a $48-million weekend

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The stars didn’t shine so bright Saturday night. The Fault in Our Stars, the cancer romancer based on John Green’s best-seller, earned $12.6 million, tumbling 51.6% from its first-day gross. Starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as the afflicted teens, TFIOS will finish the weekend with $48.2 million.

That’s an impressive figure for a movie with a minuscule $12 million production budget. And you can’t feel sorry for a little drama that earned nearly $20 million more than Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow, whose cost was nearly 15 times that of TFIOS. Cruise’s sci-fi action thriller also will finish behind the $33.5 million earned by Angelina Jolie’s Disney fantasy Maleficent in its second week. Headline for another story: Tom Terrific Loses to Two Ladies. (A second headline: Edge of Tomorrow Earns a Cruise-tastic $111 Million Abroad, Including $25 Million in China.)

But the TFIOS haul is a little disappointing for industry forecasters who only yesterday were predicting a weekend haul as high as $57 million. Those estimates were fueled by the gangbusters $26.1-million Friday opening, which includes $8.2 million for Thursday evening previews—some charging a $25 ticket price for the movie plus a satellite hookup with Green and his young stars.

(READ: How the stars aligned to give Fault a fabulous Friday)

How to explain the big balloon of attendance for TFIOS, and then the needle that let the air out? First, the movie had a large fan base eager to see it, and second, most of them saw it the first day. The social media blitz spearheaded by Green, which herded the Fault-heads into theaters, remained a cult phenomenon. The fever didn’t spread sufficiently to customers not in on the Absolute Necessity of Seeing This Movie Now.

The CinemaScore survey of first-night attendees garnered TFIOS a perfect “A” rating. (Edge of Tomorrow pulled a B-plus.) And of course it would: Early on, the Green faithful were out in force. But the demographics are telling. An astonishing 82% of ticket buyers were female, and 80% were under 25. These numbers suggest that girls went in packs, without their boyfriends or parents. And not many of those groups went on their own. Maybe the infidel majority thought: Ewww, cancer. Or, even more toxic in this jaded age, Ugh, sentiment. There’s no crying at the multiplex.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Fault in Our Stars)

Look at the eight other films that earned at least $30 million their first weekend and amassed at least half their gross by Friday night, as tabulated by the Box Office Mojo website. All were aimed at teens and tweens: four Twilight Saga entries, the final Harry Potter movie, two horror sequels (Paranormal Activity 3 and Insidious 2) and a Miley Cyrus concert film (Hannah Montana the Movie) back when she was a Disney Channel star. The Twilight and Potter entries all reaped much more money than TFIOS, most of them more than $100 million. But the John Green movie, if current numbers hold, will have the peculiar distinction of the all-time biggest fall-off from Friday through the rest of its opening weekend.

TFIOS is on track to score the ninth-largest opening weekend of 2014, below eight expensive fantasy films and the Seth Rogen-Zac Efron comedy Neighbors, at $49 million. That frat-boy farce, which cost just $18 million to produce, attracted healthy percentages of men and women, teens and the geriatrics over 25. If TFIOS is to break out of its golden ghetto, it will have to corral the ordinary moviegoer whom Green’s social-media savvy somehow missed.

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