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Top 10 Takeaways: What the Tie Between ‘Nightcrawler’ and ‘Ouija’ Reveals About the Box Office

What the Tie Between 'Nightcrawler' and 'Ouija' Reveals About the Box Office

In a move that defies the notion that Hollywood always has to be cutthroat and hyper-competitive, Universal let Open Road release “Nightcrawler” estimates ahead of its own “Ouija” rather than wait for the chance to bump the numbers a bit for bragging rights.

We won’t know for sure until tomorrow, but the audience breakdown (“Nightcrawler” is skewing heavily male and older, i.e. football Sunday demo) suggests that Universal’s horror holdover may have the edge. For the record, Open Road reported $10,909,000, but in reality, this should be considered a tie, which is what is being reported here. If “Nightcrawler” prevails, it would be a great sign of early strong word of mouth.

It would be great to stop talking about Halloween, but the Friday date was devastating (and it will be worse next year, when the holiday moves to Saturday). But only on Friday, to everyone’s surprise. For the most part, distributors anticipated this and avoided the date (with the impending election and TV ad space at a premium among another factors to consider). The total result was about as expected, with the Top Ten a bit under $77 million, way down from $116 million last year (when the holiday fell on Thursday). Given the slate of lower-grossing new releases, Saturday was down only about a quarter from last year, as opposed to 50% on Friday. But with the industry gearing up for a stellar (“Inter”- and otherwise) November ahead, it looks like a minor bump in the road after an otherwise strong October.

The Top Ten

1. (tie) Nightcrawler (Open Road) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 76; est. budget $8.5 million
$10,909,000 in 2,766 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $3,944; Cumulative: $10,909,000
1. (tie) Ouija (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$10,900,000 (-45%) in 2,899 theaters (+41); PSA: $3,760; Cumulative: $34,963,000
3. Fury (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend #3
$9,100,000 (-32%) in 3,313 theaters (+140); PSA: $2,747; Cumulative: $60,437,000
4. Gone Girl (20th Century Fox) Week 5; Last weekend #4
$8,800,000 (-20%) in 2,834 theaters (-272); PSA: $3,105; Cumulative: $136,602,000
5. The Book of Life (20th Century Fox) Week 3; Last weekend #5
$8,300,000 (-17%) in 2,794 theaters (-319); PSA: $2,971; Cumulative: $40,524,000
6. John Wick (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$ (-44%) in 2,589 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $3,109; Cumulative: $27,589,000
7. St. Vincent (Weinstein) Week 4 – Last weekend #6
$ (unchanged %) in 2,552 theaters (+270); PSA: $3,038; Cumulative: $19,527,000
8. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Buena Vista) Week 4 – Last weekend #7
$6,485,000 in 2,896 (-10%); PSA: $3,038; Cumulative: $53,626,000
9. The Judge (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #10
$3,400,000 (-22%) in 1,942 (-668); PSA: $1,751; Cumulative: $39,550,000
10. Dracula Untold (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend $9
$2,946,000 in 1,913 theaters (-451); PSA: $1,540; Cumulative: $52,859,000

Overview

The cliche “no door shuts without another opening” applies to this weekend. The lack of heavyweight new openings due to Halloween, lack of TV ad space around and worries about getting killed by next week’s two big openers (“Interstellar” and “Big Hero 6”) led to the steep downhill slide. But for the most part the remaining films tried to take advantage, with several succeeding (see the following takeaways). The two that didn’t were both among the weakest wide openers in a long time: the British Nicole Kidman/Colin Firth thriller “Before I Go to Sleep” from upstart independent acquisition distributor Clarius, which managed only $2,025,000 in 1,902 theaters (that means around 100 patrons per theater all weekend on average). And the attempted social media-promotion for the 10th anniversary reissue of the original “Saw” (Lionsgate) managed a rock-bottom $605,000 in 2,063 theaters. That’s a per-screen-average of $315, which means many shows were likely completely empty.

“Nightcrawler vs. Oscar-winner “Crash” 

Co-owned by exhibitor giants Regal and AMC, Open Road acquires usually completed independent features with the emphasis on marketing outlay rather than upfront payoff, and then releases them smartly on dates that are less crowded and with well-targeted ads at a lower cost than other wide releases. Open Road’s in-house PR access doesn’t hurt, either. Their raison d’etre includes filling up gaps on the release schedule that the studios avoid. This Halloween weekend is a case in point.

It is a fairly new company rooted in executive expertise from their previous work with Weinstein, Lionsgate and Miramax (post-Weinstein). “Nightcrawler” is exactly the kind of film those companies have been known for. For the most part Open Road is a wide release company, and with real success in a range of genres. (The sleeper specialized comedy hit “Chef” is an exception.)

In fact, two of their three biggest hits, “The Grey” and “End of Watch,” were both helped in no small part by their backing by critics. (Per an Open Road spokesman, this was acquired with an initial eye on wide rather than platform release, making any question of an alternative limited rollout moot).

“Nightcrawler” is one of the year’s best-reviewed wide releases. Its 76 Metacritic score is the same as advance reviews for “Interstellar,” and only slightly below “Gone Girl” as the best of the wide-released fall films. Though a less reliable gauge, its very high Rotten Tomatoes fresh rating of 94 is higher even than “Birdman.” Its gross of just under $11 million was reduced because of the weak Friday: on an equal playing field it likely would have rivaled Open Road’s “End of Watch”s $13.1 and surpassed “Drive”‘s $11.3. “Nightcrawler” varies a bit in reactions from key scorers: it had a B- Cinemascore (not so good) compared to A- for “End of Watch” and an absurd C- for “Drive.” Rotten Tomatoes shows it better than both, while Metacritic has it just below “Drive” and some distance better than “End of Watch.” Hard to get a clear read from those metrics.

Recall Paul Haggis’ “Crash,” whose commercial success and Best Picture Oscar win were overseen in part by current Open Road executive Tom Ortenberg. Also a Los Angeles-set examination of contemporary social themes and violence, “Crash” opened wide in April 2005 (initially, similarly no platform) to $9.1 million. Adjusted for higher ticket prices (and keeping in mind the lack of holiday competition) this is pretty close to the “Nightcrawler” response. In a much more competitive weekend, “Crash” opened in fourth place. “Crash” remains one of the lower lower critic-boosted Best Picture winners in recent years but the initial public response was better (A- Cinemascore). And it ended up with an impressive five time multiple, the final take compared to the film’s opening weekend figures.

“Nightcrawler” played best in some of the top upscale theaters in the country. It was tops for the two days in the Arclight Hollywood, often a strong barometer of movie-industry response, and just below the still strong “Birdman” at New York’s Lincoln Square. It is a dynamic, edgy, atypical commercial film. Although Open Road is smart about targeting its campaigns, its fate remains uncertain. It seems to be getting a stronger industry response than many would-be awards entries, including more highly touted films.

This needs to hold well and keep the attention up as big new films come along. But its apparent demographic appeal (older males) and similar local appeal to “Crash” could propel this into some elevated attention in multiple categories going forward. In any event, it is another example of Open Road finding a niche commercial film with wider appeal and then maximizing its potential, at least based on the opening. That it is a relatively “low” first weekend is less important than the elements now in place to spur further success.

How TWC turned around “St. Vincent”

This was the first week in its four in release that Weinstein representatives didn’t reach out to spin “St. Vincent”‘s grosses (a normal part of this business). And they didn’t need to. In the film’s first clearly strong result after three weeks of decent but not decisive results, this week is the start of the payoff. Despite the Friday slump, Saturday roared back and, if their three day estimate turns out to be correct, this will equal last weekend’s gross (with the modest help of a 10% jump in theater count). That means existing runs held in very well, far above average, and even in a week with strong holds, it scored the best.

Why? With its ultimately upbeat, quirky, somewhat general middle American story, clearly the film is getting a strong audience reaction as more people see it. But also of note is the shift in Weinstein’s campaign along with a higher than average amount of advertising at this stage of the run. New print ads this weekend (which can still drive older audiences to theaters) switched to a new look: headlined “America’s #1 Comedy” and tagged at the bottom (under the title) with “The Patron Saint of Drinking, Driving and Good Times.” Not exactly a sophisticated approach, but it suggests that TWC is going with a broad-based, feel-good, general audience look. And the results this weekend suggest they are on the right track.

I was prepared to peg this at a “Chef” level ultimate total (low 30s), but this weekend changes all that. With an expected continued Weinstein campaign, which does affect the overall ultimate financial dynamics, “St. Vincent” looks like to has a real shot at $40-50 million or even more. Nicely done.

Unbelievable Holdovers

In the Top Ten, the nine ongoing films fell between zero and 45% despite the Friday external competition. Most second-week horror films tend to plummet, but Ouija” itself was far better than expected (and justified the film’s prime date for producer Jason Blum, as predicted in last weekend’s TOH! box office report). If it ends up #1 after tomorrow’s figures are released, it will be the first pure horror film to have two weeks at the top since “The Grudge” a decade ago (not coincidentally, the second weekend included Halloween).

But other than the strong showing for “St. Vincent,” others thrived. Two family films (some kids weren’t tired out by trick or treating), “The Book of Life” and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” had modest falls, showing how much likely hunger there is for Disney’s animated “Big Hero 6” to satisfy next week.

“Gone Girl” was only down 20% in its fifth weekend. If this is a much debated, divisive film, the industry needs more of them. Its ultimate gross now looks to be over $160 million. “Fury” and “Dracula Untold” also dropped only about a third, with last week’s decent start to “John Wick” taking a second weekend hit, but still only 44% (“Nightcrawler” likely had its biggest impact here.)

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