It was a pre-Halloween massacre at the multiplexes.
Four new films, including “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” and Vin Diesel’s “The Last Witch Hunter,” crowded into theaters this weekend and were swiftly pulverized and left for dead. Another, “Steve Jobs,” expanded after a brisk limited run in a few key cities, only to be given the cold shoulder by the general public.
Their failures allowed a trio of holdovers — “The Martian,” “Goosebumps” and “Bridge of Spies” — to retain the top three spots on the box office chart.
“The quality of many of these films was so atrocious that it didn’t matter where you opened them,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “They were never going to do well.”
When the dust settled it was Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” in first place, adding $15.9 million to the Fox release’s impressive $166.4 million domestic haul. Sony’s “Goosebumps” showed some endurance in its second weekend, slipping a mere 35% to end the period with $15.5 million. The family film’s total stands at $43.7 million. And “Bridge of Spies,” the Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks Cold War drama, got a lift as older crowds caught up with the awards contender. It earned $11.4 million, a mere 26% drop from its opening weekend, bringing its stateside gross to $32.6 million.
But the results for the rest of the bunch were bleak. The glut of new releases was partially attributable to the timing of Halloween. The holiday falls on a Saturday, the busiest day for moviegoing, so studios were hoping to steer clear of what is shaping up to be a deadly period by pushing lots of new content into this weekend. The plan backfired spectacularly.
Lionsgate’s “The Last Witch Hunter” cost $70 million to make and only brought in $10.8 million across 3,082 theaters for a fourth place finish. This paltry result came despite Diesel’s recent success with “Furious 7” and his robust social media presence. Any ambitions of launching a new franchise have been extinguished.
The top five was rounded out by “Hotel Transylvania 2,” which made $9 million to push its domestic results to $148.3 million after five weeks.
Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity” sequel whiffed, producing the lowest-grossing opening in franchise history with $8.2 million. That said, it’s a hard film to assess. The studio partnered with exhibitors like AMC and Cineplex in a move that allows the film to make its home entertainment debut early. The exhibitors will receive a cut of digital revenues in return for allowing the studio to release the latest “Paranormal Activity” electronically 17 days after the movie leaves most theaters. Usually they have to wait 90 days.
However, many chains balked, worrying that the plan threatened theatrical exclusivity and thus their business models. They refused to show the picture, leaving it to open on 1,656 screens, roughly 1,000 less than the previous film in the horror series.
Paramount is pointing to “Paranormal’s” strong results in circuits like AMC, where it was the top-grossing film for the weekend, as evidence that audiences didn’t stay away because they could see the film digitally early.
“There’s no question it cost us a lot of box office that major circuits wouldn’t play the film,” said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. “It wasn’t about consumer rejection.”
Perhaps the most frustrating stumble was “Steve Jobs.” After scoring the year’s best per-screen average two weeks ago and slowly expanding with positive results, “Steve Jobs” failed to stick the landing when it was finally ready to go nationwide. It made a disappointing $7.3 million from 2,443 locations. That barely beat the $6.7 million that Ashton Kutcher’s critically excoriated “Jobs” made in its initial weekend.
The talky drama always faced commercial headwinds — something that caused one studio, Sony, to pass on the project, before producer Scott Rudin found a backer in Universal. But for a brief time, it appeared that the strong reviews and eye-catching posters would work, allowing moviegoers to warm to the picture and its chilly protagonist. Ultimately the buzz didn’t translate into box office, making it unlikely that “Steve Jobs” will earn back its $30 million budget and the millions more in marketing costs. So far it has made just under $10 million.
Universal said the picture is doing well in major markets like New York and San Francisco, and the studio believes that mounting Oscar buzz will help “Steve Jobs” attract audiences going forward.
“Where this film works, it works like a champ,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s domestic distribution chief. “There is a tremendous amount of sophisticated, major market appeal.”
The weekend also hosted two low-cost duds in Universal’s “Jem and the Holograms” and Open Road’s “Rock the Kasbah,” which opened to $1.3 million and $1.5 million, respectively. That wasn’t even good enough to crack the top ten and mark the lowest openings ever for studio films released in at least 2,000 theaters. At least these films won’t result in oceans of red ink. “Jem and the Holograms,” which adapts the 1980s cartoon of the same name, has a $5 million budget. “Rock the Kasbah,” which features Bill Murray as a rock promoter in Afghanistan, cost $15 million to make.
What’s particularly alarming is that pre-release tracking had many of these films doing substantially better (“The Last Witch Hunter” was expected to do as much as $17 million, while some estimates had “Steve Jobs” expanding to the tune of $19 million). It’s a sign that gauging audience behavior is getting a lot more difficult.
In the art house world, Focus Features debuted historical drama “Suffragette” in four locations where it made $77,000 for a per-screen average of $19,250, while Broad Green fielded the Sarah Silverman drama “I Smile Back” in two locations to $16,036, for a per-screen average of $8,018.
Overall, box office revenues were down more than 10% from the year-ago period when “Ouija” and “John Wick” topped charts.