In the Heart of the Sea
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Seasunk at the box office this weekend, mustering up a measly $11 million after debuting in 3,103 theaters.

It’s a painful flop for the director behind “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13,” one of the worst of his Oscar-winning career. With an $100 million production budget, the film will likely result in a steep write down for Warner Bros., the studio behind the seafaring epic. “In the Heart of the Sea’s” failure is the latest in a long string of missteps for the company, which is reeling from a litany of disasters that includes “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Jupiter Ascending” and “Pan.” The studio did catch a break over Thanksgiving when “Creed” emerged as a sleeper hit and its financial exposure is softened on “In the Heart of the Sea” because Village Roadshow was a backer.

“We stand behind Ron and his vision for the story,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. “We believe in him. He’s a terrific filmmaker. But some movies work and unfortunately some movies don’t.”

“In the Heart of the Sea” reunites Howard with Chris Hemsworth. The pair previously collaborated on the racing drama “Rush.” It centers on the Essex, a whaling vessel that had a violent encounter with a sperm whale. That nautical disaster inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Outside of the “Thor” movies, Hemsworth has struggled to establish himself as a box office draw — “Rush” and this year’s cyber thriller “Blackhat” both fizzled.

The film is the latest adult-oriented drama to collapse at the box office, joining a list that includes “Steve Jobs,” “Our Brand is Crisis” and “Burnt.” The opening weekend audience for “In the Heart of the Sea” skewed older. Ticket buyers were 54% male and 68% over the age of 35, while 3D screenings accounted for 42% of receipts. Warner Bros. hopes it can make up some ground over the holidays, noting that the B+ CinemaScore means word-of-mouth will be solid.

“The adult audience has been slow to come out and that’s frustrating because this is a story well told,” said Goldstein.

Of course, the whole weekend was a throat clearing of sorts as the movie business braces for the debut of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on Dec. 18. The return to a galaxy far, far away is on pace to shatter records for a December opening and could threaten “Jurassic World’s” debut of $208.8 million to become the biggest launch in history.

With “In the Heart of the Sea” flailing, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” will capture first place for the fourth straight weekend with $11.3 million. The science-fiction franchise capper has earned $244.5 million domestically.

Among holdovers, “The Good Dinosaur” nabbed third place with $10.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $89.7 million. “Creed” captured fourth position with $10.1 million. The boxing drama has earned $79.3 million after three weeks of release. “Krampus” dropped 51% in its second weekend of release to round out the top five with $8 million. The Christmas-themed horror film has earned $28.1 million stateside.

On the awards season front, “The Big Short” capitalized on Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations to pick up the year’s second largest per-screen average of $90,000. The film, which stars Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling and explores the origins of the recent financial collapse, earned $720,000 from eight theaters. A wide release is scheduled for Dec. 23. 

“We think the movie will cross over and be mainstream entertainment,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice-chairman.

“Spotlight,” another Oscar front-runner, reached an important milestone, crossing the $20 million mark after earning $2.5 million.

Overall, the box office slipped 10% from a year ago when Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” topped charts and earned more than $24 million. Theater owners and studios have openly predicted that blockbuster-stacked 2015 would be the biggest year in history, but ticket sales have floundered in the final quarter of the year. Now, the movie industry will look to Luke Skywalker to revive its fortunes.

“I don’t think you can take away how much the Force is overshadowing everything right now,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Until [‘The Force Awakens’] opens, everything else will be a non-factor.”

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