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Box Office: ‘Paranormal Activity’ Sequel Shakes the Business, ‘Steve Jobs’ Goes Wide

He revolutionized the personal computer, popularized the smart phone, and brought e-readers to the masses. Now Steve Jobs, or at least Hollywood’s conception of the prickly Apple founder, is ready for his close up.

After scoring in a handful of theaters and building Oscar buzz, Universal’s “Steve Jobs” will expand from 60 to 2,411 North American theaters, where it is expected to take in between $15 million to $19 million.

That’s a strong result for a talky film centered around three product launches that, on paper, seems almost aggressively uncommercial.

But that film isn’t likely to dominate the Monday morning quarterbacking. The weekend will also host a ballsy experiment that the mold-shattering Jobs might have loved. In a bold gambit that’s already ruffling feathers, Paramount is partnering with theater chains such as AMC and Cineplex on a move that could see “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” 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. Critics decry the move as an attempt to shrink distribution windows, while Paramount and its supporters believe it’s an important effort to gather information about consumer behavior.

“We are making an investment in getting information,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice-chairman. “This is about the longer term health of how we distribute movies. The consumer is changing and we have to change as well.”

Studios are constantly looking to reduce marketing expenses and putting a film’s theatrical debut closer to its home entertainment launch could result in important economizing. It would allow them to piggyback on the advertising campaign for a film’s theatrical debut instead of having to turn around and do the same thing three months later when it bows in homes.

But some exhibitors seem unconvinced. Chains like Regal balked at Paramount’s proposal and are refusing to show the picture. Instead of debuting across the nearly 2,900 screens, as the previous film in the series did, “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” will bow in 1,600 locations. It is expected to earn $12 million, but tracking suggests that if it launched on the same number of screens as its predecessor, it would have made $20 million.

On one hand, that shows that fans of the series aren’t going to steer clear of multiplexes because they could potentially see the film at home in the near future. Proving that exhibitors have nothing to fear from being flexible, however, could mean that Paramount doesn’t make as much theatrically as it would have had it not felt the need to stir things up.

If “Steve Jobs” lands on the higher end of projections, the tech genius biopic could lead the box office, displacing last week’s champ “Goosebumps” from the top spot. The family film is expected to generate $15 million in its second week of release. “The Martian,” another holdover, will also exhibit impressive endurance, pulling in $13 million.

Even if “Steve Jobs” ends the weekend closer to $15 million,  it would be a healthy result for the film and a signal that Hollywood has moved firmly into fall movie territory, a time when prestige fare is plentiful. Although not every picture that debuts from now until New Years is on the prowl for awards.

A case in point is Lionsgate’s “The Last Witch Hunter,” a critically derided action adventure starring Vin Diesel as an avenging warrior who battles with some nasty spell-casters. With a budget north of $50 million, the film is on pace to debut to $16 million.

That’s a much stronger result than Universal’s “Jem and the Holograms.” The big screen version of the 1980s TV series and toyline about a rock group is expected to make a soft $7 million when it kicks off in  2,411 theaters. However, “Jem” cost a fraction of what “The Last Witch Hunter” did, carrying a budget of a mere $5 million.

That leaves the Bill Murray comedy “Rock the Kasbah” as the weekend’s only other new wide release. The story of a concert promoter who discovers a Pashtun musical sensation debuts on 2,012 screens, where it should pull in $6 million. Open Road is distributing the $15 million production stateside.

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