Our Brand Is Crisis
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Illustrating the limits of star power, “Our Brand is Crisis” and “Burnt” were both roundly rejected by audiences over Halloween weekend despite the presence of Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper.

“Our Brand is Crisis,” a political satire about a spin-doctor navigating a Latin American presidential election, is the worst wide release opening of Bullock’s career, sliding in below “Two If By Sea,” which opened to $4.7 million in 1996. It debuted to a dreadful $3.4 million across 2,202 locations. Warner Bros. distributed the $28 million production and co-financed the film with Participant Media.

“We’re proud of the movie, we had higher expectations and we’re obviously disappointed,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president.

Not that Cooper fared much better playing a down-and-out chef trying to score a comeback in “Burnt.” The Weinstein Company distributed the critically scorched dramedy, which made a meagre $5 million bowing across 2,900 theaters. It cost roughly $20 million to make and was directed by John Wells (“August: Osage County”).

“It’s a small film and we didn’t spend a ton of money on it, but we were obviously hoping for more,” said Erik Lomis, the Weinstein Company’s distribution chief. “We love Bradley and he worked so hard on it with John Wells. It’s a passion project that hit a tough weekend.”

It wasn’t just star power at play. The calendar worked against both films. Halloween took place on Saturday, traditionally the busiest day for movie-going, so studios were bracing for a weekend that offered up more trick than treat. Their greatest fears were realized. Overall ticket sales fell below $75 million, the worst results of the year.

The problem might have had something to do with quality. Reviewers didn’t exactly get behind either picture.

“This is a classic dump,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “You look at the new films being offered up and none of them had a lot of marketing support behind them. The studios knew what they had.”

The weakness of “Our Brand is Crisis” and “Burnt” enabled a group of holdovers to maintain their grip on the top spots at the box office. “The Martian” captured first place with $11.4 million. The Fox adventure story is on pace to be the biggest domestic grossing release of Ridley Scott’s career, having made $182.8 million since debuting in October.

Second and third positions went to Sony’s “Goosebumps” and DreamWorks’ “Bridge of Spies” with $10.2 million and $8.1 million, respectively. “Goosebumps” has made $57.1 million in three weeks, while “Bridge of Spies” has been one of the only adult dramas to connect in recent weeks, earning $45.2 million since it debuted last month.

The top five was rounded out by Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania 2” with $5.8 million and Lionsgate’s “The Last Witch Hunter” with $4.7 million. The pictures have made $156 million and $18.6 million, respectively.

From there things got worse and worse. “Steve Jobs,” the Universal drama about the Apple founder and iPhone visionary, sank in its second weekend of wide release. The picture earned $2.6 million, a 65% fall, bringing its domestic total to $14.5 million.

It was also a bad weekend for distribution experiments. Paramount’s “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” was brutalized when it kicked off to roughly $1.7 million across 1,509 locations. “Scouts Guide” cost roughly $15 million to produce. Its failure comes on the heels of last weekend’s “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.” Both pictures are part of an experiment that allows Paramount to debut the films digitally 17 days after they leave most theaters in return for cutting exhibitors like AMC in on a cut of the home entertainment revenue. Usually they have to wait 90 days between a picture’s theatrical debut and its digital launch. The problem is that many chains refused to show the pictures, believing that they set a dangerous precedent and threatened their theatrical exclusivity.

In its second weekend, the “Paranormal Activity” sequel fell 58% to $3.4 million, bringing its total to a paltry $13.6 million.

“Truth,” a drama about “60 Minutes'” controversial report on George W. Bush’s National Guard service, stumbled in its wide release expansion. The Sony Pictures Classics release moved from 18 screens to 1,120 venues, earning a dispiriting $900,914 in the process. Its total stands at $1.1 million.

The failure of “Our Brand is Crisis” contributes to an annus horribilis for Warner Bros. The studio scored hits with “San Andreas” and “American Sniper,” but has lost tens of millions on the likes of “Pan,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” and “Jupiter Ascending.” It’s hoping next year, which offers up “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the Harry Potter spin-off, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” can help the studio rebound.

Among Oscar contenders in limited release, Focus Features moved “Suffragette” from four theaters to 23, earning $155,000 in the process. The women’s rights drama with Carey Mulligan has made $258,118 in two weeks. Meanwhile A24’s “Room,” a drama about a woman taken hostage, expanded from 23 theater to 49, while picking up $269,500. It has made $766,702 since opening on Oct. 16 and will continue to slowly add theaters in the coming weeks.

The Halloween bloodletting marks two consecutive weekends marred by commercial failures and flops. Last weekend brought duds like “The Last Witch Hunter” and the “Paranormal Activity” sequel, this one offered up turkeys courtesy of Cooper and Bullock. But salvation is in sight, with “The Peanuts Movie” and “Spectre” slated to hit theaters in the next few days.

“All I can say is thank God Charlie Brown and James Bond are coming to save the day,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak.

Hollywood could certainly use some help.

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