By ERICH SCHWARTZEL
A frightening showing at the box office this weekend featured five disappointments—including two of the biggest flops in history.
“ Steve Jobs,” “The Last Witch Hunter,” “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” “Rock the Kasbah” and “Jem and the Holograms” all fell short, with only “Witch Hunter” cracking $10 million. “Kasbah” and “Jem” now rank among the worst openings of all time, and “Paranormal” missed expectations after weeks of anticipation over its divisive distribution strategy.
Instead, holdovers “The Martian” and “Goosebumps” came in first and second place, respectively. “The Martian” grossed an estimated $15.9 million in the U.S. and Canada, bringing the space drama’s total to $166 million.
“Goosebumps” held strong in its second week, collecting $15.5 million for a cumulative $43.7 million. “Bridge of Spies” fell 26% and grossed an additional $11.4 million in third place. The Tom Hanks espionage drama is now at $32.9 million after two weeks.
“The Last Witch Hunter,” starring Vin Diesel as the eponymous witch hunter, was distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and grossed $10.8 million in fourth place.
Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures’ “Paranormal Activity,” which has garnered attention thanks to an unusual distribution strategy that has kept it from playing in most major theater chains, missed expectations and scared up only $8.2 million.
“Steve Jobs,” the biopic from Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures starring Michael Fassbender as the Apple Inc. executive, was expected to lead the pack but instead collected $7.3 million from its first weekend in wide release. It has grossed a total of about $10 million. Three of the top 10 performing theaters for the movie were in the Bay Area, and Universal will now look to major markets to keep the movie afloat.
All eyes were on “Paranormal,” the fifth installment of the horror franchise and one that is being used by Paramount to test a new distribution strategy that gets movies on out on home video much sooner than usual. “Paranormal,” which will become available digitally about two weeks after it leaves most theaters, only played in about 1,600 locations, having been shunned by major exhibitors that wouldn’t sign on to the plan, including Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark Holdings Inc. The nation’s second-largest exhibitor, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., overperformed with the title after it was only major circuit to show it.
“We’re accepting the fact on this movie that the box office will be affected,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman, adding that its long-term benefits include potentially higher digital sales and the ability to toy with a distribution schedule “currently dictated by exhibition.”
The last “Paranormal” film opened in about 2,900 locations to $18.3 million, and Paramount had expected the latest to gross between $10 million and $12 million this weekend. Several of the theaters that agreed to show the film after major exhibitors bowed out were discount houses with small capacities that consumers often don’t turn to for wide releases, added Mr. Moore.
The studio’s next release, “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” comes out on Oct. 30 under the same “Paranormal” strategy. Under pressure for the movies to work under the setup, the studio is playing advertisements for “Scouts Guide” during the closing credits of “Paranormal” in some locations.
“Rock the Kasbah,” an Open Road Films release starring Bill Murray as a washed-up music producer who finds a star in Afghanistan, barely filled any seats with $1.5 million in 13th place. That would have been a record low for a movie opening this year in wide release—had Universal’s “Jem and the Holograms” not also opened this weekend. The reboot of the 1980s children’s show grossed only $1.3 million in 15th place.
Both movies have now beaten the low set by the Zac Efron movie “We Are Your Friends,” which opened in August to $1.76 million.
Of the new arrivals, audiences liked “Steve Jobs” best, giving it an “A-” grade, according to the CinemaScore market-research firm. “Jem” received a “B+” and “Witch Hunter” and “Kasbah” each got a “B-.” “Paranormal” received a “C.” Year-to-date box office is up 5.3%, according to Rentrak.