By Brent Lang
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.
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 percent 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 percent 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 dead 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. That said, it’s a hard film to assess. The studio partnered with exhibitors like AMC and Cineplex on 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. 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.
Perhaps the most frustrating stumble was Steve Jobs, a picture that on paper seemed like an awards season breakout in the making. After scoring the 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 the strong reviews and eye-catching posters seemed to be working. Ultimately the buzz didn’t translate into box office, and making it unlikely that Steve Jobs will earn back its $30 million budget and millions more in marketing costs. So far it has made just under $10 million.
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 10 and mark the lowest openings 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, 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).
Overall, box-office revenues were down more than 10 percent from the year-ago period when Ouija and John Wick topped charts.