Box Office: Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper Try to Scare Off ‘The Martian’ on Halloween Weekend

If Hollywood thought last weekend was frightening at the box office, just wait until Halloween hits.

Studios are still smarting from a brutal period that saw four new films and the expansion of “Steve Jobs” crash and burn at multiplexes. It’s scary out there. Pictures like “The Last Witch Hunter” and “Jem and the Holograms” were roundly rejected by audiences and are unlikely to turn a profit. There won’t be much relief this weekend, as “Burnt” and “Our Brand of Crisis” are expected to deliver muted openings.

The problem is that Halloween falls on a Saturday, which is typically the strongest day for moviegoing.

“A lot of studios aren’t even releasing horror movies, because they’re not confident people will cancel their plans,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “People are going to dress up and go out on Saturday. They’re not going to the movies.”

That means that holdovers “The Martian” and “Goosebumps” will likely be in a neck and neck race for first place. The space adventure should bring in $10 million, while the family film is looking at $8 million to $9 million.

In the new release world, Warner Bros. is offering up Sandra Bullock as a mercenary spin-doctor trying to massage a South American election in “Our Brand is Crisis.” Critics have been mixed on the film, although they’ve praised Bullock’s feisty performance. The problem is that politically charged films aren’t usually very commercial and there are a lot of options for adult audiences such as “Steve Jobs” and Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.” The hope is that it catches fire with older crowds and continues to play through awards season.

Our Brand is Crisis” is looking to debut to $6 million across 2,400 theaters. That would make it Bullock’s weakest wide release opening since 1996’s Ernest Hemingway drama “In Love and War.” “Our Brand is Crisis” cost $28 million to produce. There’s a lot of financial partners on this one, including Participant Media, which limits the studio’s exposure should things not go according to plan.

Burnt,” a drama about a driven chef that features Bradley Cooper toiling over a hot stove, is looking at an opening of $7 million when it debuts across 2,900 theaters. Reviews have been weak, with critics handing it a 39% “rotten” rating, but Cooper’s star is on the rise after “American Sniper” dominated the box office earlier this year. His appeal to female ticket buyers will be crucial if “Burnt” wants to break out. The Weinstein Company is distributing the film, which cost roughly $20 million to make. Cooper previously played a chef on TV in the short-lived series “Kitchen Confidential.”

And for the second weekend in a row, Paramount is trying to upend distribution models. A week after bowing “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” it will field “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” in 1,500 locations. Both pictures are part of an experiment that allows Paramount to debut the films digitally 17 days after it leaves 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.

Three of the four biggest chains are refusing to show the pictures. That took a chunk out of “Paranormal Activity’s” box office last weekend, leaving it with $8.1 million, and it should depress ticket sales for “Scouts Guide” as well. The tongue-in-cheek look at the undead should bring in $4 million. It cost roughly $15 million to produce.

Despite the ticket sales carnage, this Halloween weekend could match last year’s holiday. In 2014, studios largely steered clear of the weekend, only offering up the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller “Nightcrawler” and the Nicole Kidman dud “Before I Go to Sleep.” The trio of new films should match the $12 million and change those pictures generated even if they won’t exactly set the world on fire.

The good news for the business is that the first weekend in November brings the James Bond sequel “Spectre” and “The Peanuts Movie,” and with them the promise of box office salvation.

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