Neither the high-wattage star power of Sandra Bullock nor the rock-star charm of Bradley Cooper could conquer the box office this Halloween. Now in the books as the worst weekend of 2015 — with Bullock’s political drama Our Brand Is Crisis earning a paltry $3.2 million in wide release and Cooper’s chef drama Burnt doing just slightly better with $5 million — the frame marks the nadir of a month Hollywood would soon like to forget.
The two movies come on the heels of a slew of box office letdowns aimed at adults — many of which boast big stars, big ideas, and dreams of year-end awards. Steve Jobs has earned only $15.6 million since it opened on Oct. 9, despite rave reviews and plenty of Oscar buzz. Broader, more visually appealing movies like Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak ($28.5 million) and Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk ($10 million) also underperformed. And the specialty market isn’t faring any better with limited releases like the Cate Blanchett/ Robert Redford starrer Truth ($1.1 million) and the Julianne Moore/Ellen Page film Freeheld ($513,000) also failing to connect with moviegoers.
Distributors chalk up the disappointments to too many films for a similar audience. Of all the adult-oriented fare, only The Martian became a breakout hit, grossing $186.8 million and sparking awards chatter. “It was a good, crowd-pleasing, all-audience-satisfying movie,” says Fox’s president of domestic distribution, Chris Aronson, of the studio’s film. Many of the October dogs also flopped with critics. And reviews can matter as much as, if not more than, marquee stars when it comes to luring adult audiences into theaters.
But all is not lost. Studios will still make movies for grown-ups — they just have to make good movies for grown-ups. “Adults are the only consistent moviegoers,” says one studio executive. “And they won’t shell out their hard-earned cash for mediocrity.”
Things, however, are looking up, thanks to a coming wave of would-be blockbusters that kicks off Friday with the anticipated release of Spectre. A strong turn from the Bond film could help put 2015 back on track to become the highest-grossing year in history. And with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens following soon on its heels, chances are the promise of a record year will still be met.
“Once people start getting back into the habit of going [to the movies], the business feeds itself,” says The Weinstein Company’s distribution chief Erik Lomis, whose upcoming film The Hateful Eight from Quentin Tarantino should help contribute. “It’s the rising-tide theory.”
And that should help make October easier to forget.