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Low-Budget ‘Ouija’ Spooks Box Office for $20 Million Triumph

Teen-targeting thriller scares off Keanu Reeves’ ”John Wick“ and Brad Pitt’s ”Fury“

“Ouija” spooked its way to a $20 million triumph at the pre-Halloween box office this weekend, vindicating the spirits that moved the Universal Pictures brain trust to downsize what was to be a pricey blockbuster movie into a micro-budget horror hit.

“Ouija” scared off the surprisingly strong Keanu Reeves assassin tale “John Wick,” which opened in second with $14.1 million, and last week’s No. 1 movie, the Brad Pitt World War II saga “Fury,” which was third with $13 million. The Bill Murray-Melissa McCarthy comedy “St. Vincent” finished sixth in its nationwide expansion with an estimated $8 million.

Also read: How Universal Took ‘Ouija’ From Risky Blockbuster to Likely Low-Budget Hit

The thriller based on the creepy Hasbro board game was originally envisioned as an effects-laden megabudget Michael Bay blockbuster, along the line of “Pirates of the Carribean.” But wary of the cost, Universal unplugged “Ouija” in 2011 because of budget concerns. It came back to life when it was turned into a smaller, more intimate and considerably less-expensive film by microbudget horror master Jason Blum however, and the studio got back on board.

With “Ouija” quadrupling its $5 million production budget in its first weekend, that decision looks pretty smart today. It’s the seventh film with a budget of under $5 million to hit No. 1 for Blumhouse Productions, which partnered with Bay, Brad Fuller, Andrew Form, Bennett Schneir and Hasbro to produce “Ouija.”

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Teens — particularly girls — were the target demographic for “Quija,” and it connected. The audience was 75 percent under the age of 25 years old and 61 percent women. And Hispanics made up 39 percent of the crowd. 

“The stars aligned,” Universal’s distribution chief Nikki Rocco told TheWrap Sunday. “It’s very good to be in business with Jason and Blumhouse.” Universal in July extended its deal with Blum and his production company for 10 years.

The cast of “Ouija” features several young TV stars including Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel”) and Daren Kagasoff (“Secret Life of an American Teenager. While Stiles White (“The Possession”) directed, and co-wrote with Juliet Snowden.

Also read: ‘John Wick’ Reviews: Did Keanu Reeves Finally Fire Off Another Solid Action Movie?

“John Wick” represents a big rebound for Reeves, who was last seen on the big screen in last year’s megabomb “47 Ronin.” The better-than-expected opening of this R-rated thriller, which has a budget that was a fraction of that film’s $175 million price tag, beat “47 Ronin’s” debut by $5 million.

It’s also a win for Lionsgate, which acquired “John Wick” at no cost after several studios passed on the Thunder Road Pictures-MJW Films thriller, which was produced by Basil Iwanyk (“The Expendables”) and Mike Witherill.

The audience for the well-reviewed “John Wick” — it’s at 86 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes — was 60 percent male and 77 percent over the age of 25. It received a big boost from 347 IMAX screens, which provided a significant 18 percent of the grosses.

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A promotional campaign featuring a tie-in with the popular video game “Payday 2,” in which John Wick was introduced as the first “assassin” in the game, also helped. “Payday 2” has more than eight million players.

The Weinstein Company was aggressive in its expansion of “St. Vincent,” going from 64 theaters to 68 to 2,284 theaters. The result was a solid but not spectacular $3,531 per-screen average, well below the $7,000 per-theater average of “Ouija.”

The audience, largely female (60 percent) and older with 72 percent over the age of 35, gave “St. Vincent” an “A-” CinemaScore. That grade, good reviews and the film’s skew toward mature moviegoers suggest the comedy will play solidly in the coming weeks.

Also read: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon Teaming on Syfy Thriller ‘Incorporated’

Fox’s “Gone Girl” continued to hold better than any film in the market – dropping just 34 percent from last weekend – and took in $11.1 million to finish fourth. The Ben Affleck murder mystery directed by David Fincher has taken in nearly $125 million at the domestic box office after four weeks.

Fox’s 3D animated tale “The Book of Life” was fifth with $9.7 million. The Guillermo del Toro-produced Day of the Dead romp featuring Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana and Diego Luna in the voice cast is up to nearly $30 million after two weeks.

Another family film, Disney’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” held well and was seventh with $7 million and is at $45 million domestically after three weeks.

Also read: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ Explodes at Intimate, First-Look Screening

The Nicholas Sparks adaptation “The Best of Me,” the Robert Downey Jr. courtroom drama “The Judge” and the monster reboot “Dracula Untold” rounded out the top ten.

The overall box office cooled down, but was still about 15 percent ahead of the same weekend last year, when “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” opened at No. 1 with $32 million.