Maybe everyone just stayed home and watched the baseball playoffs this weekend. Or maybe moviegoers blew all their ticket money buying advance tickets for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Or maybe there was just nothing playing at the multiplex that anyone wanted to see.

That last one would be the obvious takeaway from this weekend's weak box office -- so weak that, even with four new wide releases and one much-anticipated expansion into wide release -- nothing could top the three-week-old "The Martian" and the week-old "Goosebumps." Both were neck-and-neck with nearly $16 million each, but "The Martian" returned to the top spot in its fourth week of release.

Overall, the box office was down 14 percent from last weekend's lackluster showing, and down 30 percent from the seasonal peak three weeks ago, when "The Martian" first topped the chart.

"The Last Witch Hunter" underperformed with a disappointing fourth-place debut ($10.8 million), and "Steve Jobs" also disappointed as it expanded wide. It was expected to open in the low-teens, instead it came in seventh with $7.3 million.

"Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" marked the low-budget horror franchise's return to October and was expected to pull in about $11 million, but it opened in sixth place with an estimated $8.2 million -- the lowest opening for the franchise since the first film's bow on less than 200 screens. But at least it cracked the top 10. Bill Murray's "Rock the Kasbah" opened at No. 13 with an estimated $1.5 million, while the live-action version of '80s cartoon "Jem and the Holograms" premiered at No. 15 with an estimated $1.3 million. "Jem" now gets to go down in history as the third-worst debut of all time for a movie opening on more than 2,000 screens.

How do you explain a disaster like this weekend? If it wasn't baseball or hurricanes or the Force, it was probably one of these six reasons:

1. The Pre-Halloween Pile-up

It's never a good idea to have four new wide releases competing at once (five if you count "Steve Jobs" going from 60 theaters to 2,493). And while "Witch Hunter" may have been the only new film going after the young male action audience, it had to split the horror tally with "Paranormal Activity." You'd think in October, horror fans would support more than one new release at a time; guess not. Also, you'd think producer "Paranormal" and "Jem" producer Jason Blum would avoid competing against himself by releasing his two movies on the same weekend, especially since both were trying to attract young female ticket buyers.

2. Weak Reviews
All four of the new wide releases got terrible reviews. "Jem" scored just 20 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, and that was the best score of the four. (Worst was "Kasbah," with 8 percent.) Now, terrible reviews don't necessarily mean terrible movies, but poor word-of-mouth show that viewers didn't recommend "Kasbah," "Witch Hunter," or "Paranormal" with any more fervor than critics did. (Only "Jem" got a decent CinemaScore grade, a B+.)

3. Bad Ideas

Another "Paranormal" movie is a no-brainer, but otherwise, it's hard to imagine how people thought some of these movies would be commercial even at the drawing-board stage. Vin Diesel hasn't done well outside his "Fast & Furious" franchise, and putting him in a Viking wig for even part of "Witch Hunter" sounds like a recipe for laughter, not action or horror. And director Breck Eisner had a modest horror hit with "The Crazies" five years ago, but trusting him with a big-budget action movie is probably a mistake, given that his 2005 "Sahara" was one of the five biggest money-losers of all time.

As for "Rock the Kasbah," Murray is beloved without being a box office draw any more. Political satire is a nearly impossible genre to sell, especially mixed with a pop music plot (remember "American Dreamz?" Didn't think so) and an Afghanistan setting.

"Jem," of course, is based on a 30-year-old cartoon with a limited following. Still, that cult was suspicious from the moment the film went into production a year and a half ago, resulting in fan furors over everything from the early trailers to the casting of light-skinned, biracial Aurora Perrineau as darker-hued bassist Shana. That controversy couldn't have helped sales. Blum spent just $5 million to make the movie, so his risk is low, but it also means he couldn't offer the visual feast that fans of the colorful cartoon expected.

4. Meh Marketing

Why did Universal commit so few resources to "Jem"?" Other 1980s Hasbro-toy based cartoons, including "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe," have had hundreds of millions of dollars to play with. Is it because those were made for boys and not girls? Or is it because the "Jem" franchise was handled by the same people (including manager Scooter Braun and director Jon Chu) who helped make Justin Bieber a social-media star? After all, that's also the plot of the new "Jem," whose heroine becomes a viral sensation. Maybe they thought they could market the movie the same way and not have to bother much with traditional TV advertising. In any case, it's no wonder few moviegoers were aware of the film. (There weren't a whole lot of commercials for "Rock the Kasbah" or "Paranormal" either.)

The failure is even more curious since Universal has spent most of this year expertly marketing both standard blockbusters ("Jurassic World") and movies that might have been considered tougher sells ("Fifty Shades of Grey," "Straight Outta Compton"). In the last couple of months, however, the studio has dropped the ball, not just on "Jem," but also on "Crimson Peak," "Everest," and "Steve Jobs."

5. Risky Release Strategies
"Paranormal" could have opened bigger if it had been playing on more screens. But many chains didn't want to book it, due to Paramount's controversial (but unprecedented) VOD release strategy with this installment. Theater owners don't like losing on the revenue from the already-shrinking theatrical-to-home-video window (it's down to about three months now), so Paramount offered a deal: a shorter-than-usual window in exchange for a share of the profits from digital home viewing to be shared with the theaters. Many chains refused the deal, which is why "Ghost Dimension" premiered on 1,211 fewer screens than "The Marked Ones."

6. Nostalgia Ain't What It Used to Be

As last week's box office results indicated, older viewers aren't coming out for this fall's supposedly adult-oriented movies the way they were expected to do. A lot of that surely has to do with lame reviews, since older viewers still pay attention to those. But that didn't leave anyone else.

"Jem" alienated fans of the original without cultivating new ones. "Kasbah" was clearly meant for those who loved Bill Murray in his comic prime, and who are old enough to get the classic-rock references that pepper the script; viewers too young to know who Slash is need not bother.

And even "Steve Jobs," a movie revolving around pivotal Apple product launches, was meant to appeal to grown-ups who remember how revolutionary the first Macintosh was in 1984. Who knows, maybe the kids will watch it someday on their iPhones.
categories Box Office, Horror