We're now fully in the midst of awards season, when kids are in school and mature adults are expected to flock to the theaters to see Oscar-worthy dramas.
It ain't happening.
This week saw kiddie horror comedy "Goosebumps" top the chart while three other new wide release movies aimed at adults had to struggle. And this season's other Oscar hopefuls also aren't doing as well as expected.
"Goosebumps," also the widest new release of the week, debuted with an estimated $23.5 million. That was enough to dethrone the champ of the past two weeks, "The Martian." The sci-fi hit took second with an estimated $21.5 million. So Steven Spielberg's nostalgic spy thriller "Bridge of Spies" had to settle for a third place opening ($15.4 million), while Guillermo del Toro's R-rated gothic horror romance "Crimson Peak" opened below expectations in fourth, with an estimated $12.9 million. Both films had been expected to open in the $18 to $20 million range.
For a movie by the most successful Hollywood director of all time, "Bridge's" opening weekend seems low. But it's actually in line with figures Spielberg typically generates for his more grown-up, less action-oriented movies. The director's previous collaboration with Tom Hanks, 2004's "The Terminal," opened on 2,811 theaters (the same exact number of screens as "Bridge") and scored $19.1 million. "Munich" debuted in 2005 with just $4.2 million, but that was on just 532 screens. In 2011, "War Horse" opened with $7.5 million on 2,376 screens. A year later, "Lincoln" opened on 11 screens with just under $1 million, but when it expanded to 1,775 screens the following weekend, it made $21.0 million.
It's no wonder that "Bridge" would appeal to older audiences. It's based on a Cold War incident from 1960, it features more talk than action, and it stars 59-year-old Tom Hanks. Ticketbuyers seem to like it as much as critics, judging by the movie's A grade at CinemaScore. Even so, "Bridge's" appeal to older viewers is especially lopsided. According to Disney's own exit polls, the audience was 88 percent over the age of 25 and 43 percent over 50.
Del Toro also has a reputation as a blockbuster filmmaker, yet "Crimson" marks the director's lowest-grossing wide-release debut since his first American film, "Mimic," 18 years ago. You could blame the hard R rating, the relative lack of star power and lukewarm word-of-mouth (a B- at CinemaScore).
Other Oscar hopefuls already in theaters haven't been faring that well, either. "Black Mass" features a much-touted performance by Johnny Depp, but after five weeks, the mobster biopic is topping out around $60 million. It is performing better than Robert Zemeckis' "The Walk," now in its third week, which earned a paltry $482 per screen this weekend and has garnered just $9.2 million to date.
There are some hopeful signs for thoughtful, grown-up, awards-hopeful films. "Steve Jobs" opened last week with a tremendous $130,381 per-screen average, the highest of any film this year. This week, it expanded from four screens too 60 and earned a still-massive $25, 833 peer screen. Those numbers bode well for the movie's expansion to 2,400 screens next weekend.
Still, the movies dong the best these days are the ones that have few awards prospects, yet appeal to all ages -- or at least to families. Besides "Goosebumps," "The Martian" has held its own for three weeks, to the tune of $143.8 million earned to date. Despite near-universal praise for the film, it's not being taken seriously as an Oscar contender, not even for the work of director Ridley Scott or star Matt Damon, but is seen as more of a well-made popcorn movie.
And then there's "Hotel Transylvania 2," in fifth place this weekend with an estimated $12.3 million and a four-week total of $136.4 million. You'd think this children's horror comedy and "Goosebumps" would damage each other's prospects, but that doesn't seem to have happened.
To be sure, even "Goosebumps" opened on the low end of expectations. And the entire box office this week was nearly flat with last week -- even though last week had just one big movie, "Pan," whose debut was a vast, smoking crater. That this weekend featured four well-hyped new wide releases and still couldn't top last week isn't a good sign.
Nonetheless, expect to see a lot of analysts wringing their hands and suggesting that there are only so many mature moviegoers to go around, and that releasing too many movies at once that cater to them means the films will all cannibalize each other and sap each other's chances for success.
If more adult fare fails to draw crowds as they expand, we'll see a lot of analysts mourning the death of adult dramas -- and a lot of Hollywood execs rushing to stuff the fall schedule with the kinds of kid and teen pics that dominate the multiplex the rest of the year.