“Steve Jobs,” the story of Apple’s complicated genius, failed to open across the country this weekend, as four other films opening wide tanked, including “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” and Vin Diesel‘s “The Last Witch Hunter.” The overall box office fell more than 10 percent from last year’s comparable weekend.
That left the good news to Matt Damon‘s “The Martian,” which surged back to the top of the box office after edging Sony’s Jack Black horror comedy “Goosebumps” this weekend. Fox’s Ridley Scott-directed sci-fi tale is headed for roughly $16 million over the three days, with “Goosebumps” not far behind at $15.5 million.
In a disappointing weekend overall, the most surprising blow was the $7.2 million wide debut of Universal’s “Steve Jobs,” well under the expectations of analysts and the studio, which had it in the mid-teen millions. Universal is having the best year at the box office in Hollywood history, and the biopic starring Michael Fassbender as the late Apple Inc. founder is its best hope for awards and Oscar glory. But the big jump from 60 to 2,498 theaters in its third weekend was an aggressive expansion and it didn’t connect, despite a major marketing push by the studio.
By comparison, “The Social Network” — billed as a comedy/drama — opened in 2,770 theaters for $22 million in October 2010. That David Fincher-directed take on the birth of Facebook from Sony – where “Steve Jobs” was originally developed – was seen as more accessible to mainstream audiences.
Universal chose a platform release for “Steve Jobs,” like “Social Network” adapted by Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, in part because the drama was seen as more challenging fare. It debuted on October 9 in four theaters and averaged more than $130,000 in one the year’s best specialty openings. Last weekend, it brought $1.5 million after expanding to 60 locations. That’s a good-but-not-great per-theater average of roughly $25,000.
“Steve Jobs” this weekend continued to play most strongly in New York and L.A., the cities that powered the strong limited opening, on both coasts, most of the major markets and in upscale theaters. Generally speaking, the film has struggled in the Heartland and rural areas where audiences would presumably be less attuned to media and tech developments.
The studio indicated Sunday it would stick with the current theater count next weekend, and look to build on its strengths by focusing on the positive reviews (85 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), its “A-” CinemaScore and positive word of mouth.
Meanwhile, Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” saw its grosses gutted by theater owners angry over Paramount’s VOD release arriving early, shortening its exclusive theatrical run.
“The Martian” lifted its domestic total to $166 million and its worldwide haul to nearly $350 million, falling off just 26 percent in its fourth week of release.
“It’s a crowd-pleaser,” Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson told TheWrap. “It was designed that way and it’s playing that way.”
It was grim for the newcomers. Blame too much adult fare in the marketplace, a hangover from last week’s frenzy over tickets to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” going on sale or anticipation of the James Bond movie “Spectre” just two weeks away, but all four wide openers came in under expectations that were low to begin with. With DreamWorks and Disney’s Tom Hanks thriller “Bridge of Spies” holding very well (off just 26 percent) in its second week for third at $11.5 million, and Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania” in fifth with roughly $9 million in its fifth week, four of the top five films were holdovers.
Vin Diesel‘s PG-13-rated action fantasy “The Last Witch Hunter” finished fourth with $11.2million over the three days for Lionsgate, not nearly enough for a film with a $75 million production budget.
“Paranormal Activity” came in at $8.2 million, by far the lowest opening gross for any film in the franchise. The sixth and final entry in the lucrative low-budget horror series was in just 1,656 theaters, about half the number in which previous films in the franchise played. That’s because several of the largest theater chains — including Regal, Cinemark, Carmike, Marcus and Harkins — refused to play it after distributor Paramount cut a deal with the AMC and Cineplex chains and said it would make it available via video on demand early, shortening its theatrical run.
“Rock the Kasbah,” an R-rated comedy starring Bill Murray as an over-the-hill rock band manager, bombed and finished out of the top ten with $1.5 million for Open Road.
“Jem and the Holograms,” a PG-rated live-action musical version of the 1980 animated TV show, did even worse, coming in with roughly $1.3 million for the three days for Universal.
To be clear, these weren’t well-reviewed films. “Jem and the Holograms” was the highest of the wide openers on Rotten Tomatoes with an anemic 20 percent positive. But for perspective, “Jem” and “Rock the Kasbah” finished behind the $2.5 million rung up by the pricey disappointment “Pan” — in its third weekend.
Looking ahead, Sony’s “Goosebumps” is set up very well for the Halloween weekend and is near $46 million domestically. The wide openers are the Weinstein Company’s chef comedy “Burnt,” directed by John Wells and starring Bradley Cooper, the Sandra Bullock political comedy “Our Brand Is Crisis” from Warner Bros. and “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” from Paramount.