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Halloween Box Office: ‘Nightcrawler’ Looks to Hold Off ‘Ouija’

Halloween is shaping up to be a box office dead zone.

With trick-or-treating taking place on Friday, weekend ticket sales will essentially be cut in half, analysts say, leaving the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller “Nightcrawler” and reigning champion “Ouija” to fight over the rest of the goodies.

“It’s one of those weekends where Halloween trumps everything,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “People are going to be pulled in so many different directions on that day. Just like when the 4th of July lands on a Friday, you’re at the mercy of the calendar.”

For now, give the edge to “Nightcrawler,” which should pull in between $10 million and $11 million when it bows on 2,766 screens. The picture focuses on the extreme lengths an ethically flexible crime journalist (Gyllenhaal) will go to in order to land a blood-splattered scoop. Reviews have been strong with critics lauding Gyllenhaal’s twisty performance, and, though not a horror film, “Nightcrawler’s” thriller underpinnings should be in keeping with the holiday spirit. Open Road is distributing the film, which it acquired out of Cannes.

It will be in a neck-in-neck race for first place with “Ouija,” the micro-budget horror film that debuted to $19.9 million last weekend and should experience the sharp drop-off usually associated with the chiller genre. A sophomore weekend of $9 million to $10 million seems likely.

Most studios are steering clear of the movie-going wasteland, but there is one other new release in “Before I Go to Sleep.” The adaptation of S. J. Watson’s best-seller about a woman suffering from amnesia reunites “The Railway Man” team of Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. Clarius Entertainment is distributing the film in 1,900 locations and hopes that the success of “Gone Girl,” another thriller that appeals to women, augurs well for its own film with a female protagonist.

“It shows there’s an appetite in the marketplace for thrillers with literary pedigree and high caliber actors,” said Claire Heath, a spokeswoman for Clarius.

Before I Go to Sleep” should do about $5 million at the box office. That’s slightly more than the re-release of “Saw” is shaping up to make when it hits 2,063 locations, satiating audiences eager for a dose of Jigsaw’s house of horrors. The Lionsgate series was once a Halloween time staple, but disappeared from theaters in 2010 with “Saw 3D.” The one-week-only re-release should generate $3 million.

There are two other holdovers that could show signs of a pulse in the box office dead zone: “Gone Girl” and “The Book of Life.” The David Fincher film might make for a macabre date night and could generate about $8 million in its fifth weekend. Hovering over $126 million and change, it is poised to pass “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and its $127 million take as Fincher’s highest-grossing film.

“The Book of Life” should attract the limited family audience that’s not going to costume parties, pulling in roughly $7 million. Its results will be an important measuring stick for another animated film due to hit multiplexes next week, Disney’s “Big Hero 6.”

“It will be interesting to see what kind of hold it has,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “If it dips a lot it could be an indicator that a lot of families are waiting for ‘Big Hero 6.'”

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