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Box Office: ‘Nightcrawler,’ ‘Ouija’ Tied for First in Deadly Halloween Weekend

“Ouija” and “Nightcrawler” are effectively tied for first place at the box office, providing a little excitement in an otherwise deadly Halloween weekend at the multiplexes.

Both films picked up roughly $10.9 million, but a clear leader will only be determined once final numbers come in on Monday. Whether the victor is “Ouija” or “Nightcrawler,” it will still be the lowest-grossing No. 1-ranked film since the first weekend in September when “Guardians of the Galaxy” topped the box office with $10.4 million.

“Nightcrawler,” a twisty thriller about an ethically warped crime reporter (Jake Gyllenhaal), debuted across 2,766 locations. Open Road, which picked up “Nightcrawler” at Cannes, saw there was a dearth of new Halloween fare and pushed the film back from its original release dats of Oct. 17, when it would have faced stiffer competition from Brad Pitt’s “Fury.” The film cost $8.5 million to produce and has been a critical favorite, with a skeletal-looking Gyllenhaal picking up some of the best notices of his career.

“We saw an opportunity,” said Jason Cassidy, Open Road Films’ chief marketing officer, adding that even though “Nightcrawler” isn’t a horror film, it complemented the holiday because “it had dark complex themes that we really played around with in the marketing.”

Gyllenhaal also banged the drum for the picture, popping up on talkshows and doing surprise appearances at three screenings last weekend in three different cities.

“Jake Gyllenhaal was a marketing machine,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “His losing all that weight was a great peg for stories.”

After two weeks in theaters, Universal Pictures’ “Ouija” has earned $35 million domestically, a healthy return on a production budget of less than $5 million. It also held surprisingly well for a horror film, dropping just 45% from its opening — a rare show of endurance for a genre that typically fades fast at the box office.

Indeed, Universal Pictures distribution chief Nikki Rocco said she had expected the film to fall between 60% and 70% in its follow-up frame.

“This is an amazing hold,” said Rocco. “It was a nice choice for people that didn’t want to go trick-or-treating and didn’t want to stay home.”

Overall ticket sales were down more than 20% from the previous year’s numbers. Major studios steered clear of the weekend because Halloween fell on a Friday, cutting into one of the biggest moviegoing nights of the week. It’s another accident of the calendar with the holidays not lining up the way Hollywood likes, given that the 4th of July also fell on a Friday.

The other films hoping to take advantage of the lack of major releases were less fortunate than “Nightcrawler.” Clarius Entertainment’s “Before I Go to Sleep” bombed with a $2 million bow from 1,935 locations, below projections of $5 million. It’s the latest dud from the newly minted distributor behind “And So It Goes” ($15.2 million) and “Return to Oz” ($11.1 million). The psychological thriller stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, the pair behind this spring’s box office nonentity “The Railway Man.” Threepeat?

Though more seasonally appropriate, the 10th anniversary re-release of “Saw” met with even greater audience indifference. Jigsaw’s return mustered an anemic $650,000 in ticket sales. Like last summer’s re-release of “Ghostbusters,” “Saw’s” theatrical resurrection showed the limitations of revivals in an age where cinematic chestnuts are instantly available via streaming services.

Holdovers “Fury” and “Gone Girl” split up the bulk of adult audiences between them, earning $9.1 million and $8.8 million, respectively. With a domestic total of $136.6 million, “Gone Girl” is now David Fincher’s highest-grossing Stateside release, supplanting “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Rounding out the top five was “The Book of Life,” as the animated Day of the Dead film picked up $8.3 million, pushing its total to $40.5 million.

Coming in at No. 6, Lionsgate’s “John Wick” fell 44% to $8 million in its second weekend, pushing its total to $27.6 million. Seventh place finisher “St. Vincent” held strong, essentially flat with the previous weekend with $7.7 million, which brings its cumulative results to just shy of $20 million.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight’s “Birdman” is shaping up to be an arthouse breakout despite its oddball premise. The show business satire that features Michael Keaton as a former comicbook film star picked up $2.5 million from 231 theaters, bringing its domestic total to $5 million.

“There’s a sense of demand for the film,” said Dergarabedian. “‘Birdman’ is the critical darling of the fall season, and it’s getting universally great reviews coupled with incredible social marketing buzz.”

Sony Pictures Classics continued to roll out “Whiplash,” moving the drama about an aspiring musician from 46 to 61 screens and picking up $275,346 for a per screen average of $4,514. The film has earned $1.1 million since debuting a month ago.

“Citizenfour” benefited from controversy surrounding Edward Snowden. The NSA whistleblower documentary scored $210,049 for a per screen average of $5,677 after expanding from five to 37 screens. The Radius-TWC film has earned $391,000 after two weeks in theaters. The company’s Daniel Radcliffe horror film “Horns” was less successful, picking up $104,357 from 103 screens. It has been available on demand for a month, where it fared better, picking up north of $1 million.

Opera lovers keep turning out for “The Met: Live in HD’s” season at the multiplexes, as the live transmission of Bizet’s “Carmen” earned $2.3 million in North America.

The meagre box office returns were a throat clearing of sorts before the arrival next week of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” and Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” both of which are on pace to generate north of $50 million when they debut. That’s the best treat of all for Hollywood.

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