If ever a weekend left distributors perplexed about how to deliver audiences for movies that deserve them, this was the one. Rarely do you see this many films on a weekend that came with backstories that amounted to cautionary tales about how hard the distribution business is for challenging movies.

Film Title: Steve JobsThis most glaring example of the challenge of finding an audience for a prestige is the way that Steve Jobs failed in its escalation from platform to wide release. There has been much finger pointing about what should have been done differently, and whether Universal should even have stepped up to make the movie after Christian Bale fell out and Michael Fassbender took the starring role. I’ll deal with all that here, but I see some irony that the Apple genius Jobs and his ilk godfathered a technological revolution that has left us so overwhelmed with ways to occupy our time that maybe, just maybe, we can’t recognize a worthwhile movie made by top Hollywood talent, because its plot can’t be summed up in a sentence and its value can’t be conveyed in a trailer full of explosions.

Consider the following movies:

Steve Jobs expanded wide in its third weekend to $7.1 million, with an estimated budget of $30M and a P&A spend estimated between $35M-$40M that included a generous helping of spots during NFL games these past few weekends. Very clearly, Universal learned the hard way that what it has here is an art house movie that isn’t going to catch on in the flyover cities. Critics and cities like L.A., New York and San Francisco gave Steve Jobs an A- CinemaScore, but the majority of middle America didn’t buy into it. 29% of Steve Jobs’ entire runs made steve-jobs-aaron-sorkin-images66% of the gross. To put Steve Jobs’ under-performance in a surreal context, it is dumbfounding to imagine that the film based on Walter Isaacson’s celebrated biography, adapted by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire filmmaker Danny Boyle, opened with only a slightly higher per-screen average and gross — $7.1 million– than that forgettable 2013 film Jobs, which grossed $6.7 million in its first weekend in wide release. That film, which starred Ashton Kutcher, didn’t have the major studio machinery behind it like Steve Jobs did, or the advertising budget, but it ended up with a $35.9M worldwide gross to cover its $12 million budget. Insiders are telling me they are going to hang in on this film, but clearly they will have to scale down their national expectations and focus on those stronghold cities if they hope to keep Steve Jobs in theaters, and in the minds of Oscar voters. Universal tells Deadline that they expect to hold their 2,493 screens this upcoming weekend. The key will be whether they can hang in and compete with November art house titles Carol, Spotlight, and The Danish Girl on the horizon.

As for the finger pointing: With a crowded adult autumn market and Star Wars: The Force Awakens hogging up screens at the end of the year, where does a distributor even begin to date a three-act, warts-and-all bio chamber piece such as Steve Jobs? One rival distributor criticized that Uni went “too wide, too fast,” saying a platform release leading into Golden Globes/Oscar noms week would be ideal. But just as there are numerous choices for adults right now — The Martian and Bridge Of Spies both held fast — there are even more adult options at year’s end including Joy, The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. 

Image (9) outofthefurnace__131208214547-275x183.jpg for post 648524There were some knee-jerk reactions this weekend that said Steve Jobs failed because Fassbender isn’t a star. Sony might have been smart to leave once Bale left Steve Jobs, but tell that to the investors behind Exodus: Gods And Kings ($24M opening domestic, $140M production cost) and Out Of The Furnace ($5.2M, $22M cost). Bale’s strong acting didn’t make either of those films successful, so it seems simplistic and maybe unfair to pin Steve Jobs on Fassbender. CinemaScore reported that 72% bought ticket to Steve Jobs for the subject matter, 25% graded Fassbender with an A, and 19% gave the same grade to co-star Kate Winslet. Universal is invested in Fassbender’s rise as the studio has made him the centerpiece of a Tomas Alfredson-directed adaptation of the Jo Nesbo crime novel The Snowman. “People didn’t go to see Fassbender in a lead role, they went to see a movie about Steve Jobs,” added another distribution chief. Maybe the film, which was first set up at Sony four years ago in late 2011 (when the deal was made for Isaacson’s book right after Jobs’ death), simply took too long, as David Fincher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bale, and Sony Pictures fell by the wayside during its long journey to the screen. Maybe the film’s conception is too highbrow, with Sorkin veering too far from the usual track that biographical films follow. Or maybe we are more interested in Jobs’ Apple creations as his legacy than we are the actual imperfect man. But when Universal’s Donna Langley made the decision, she had to know her 2015 was going to be very profitable, if not record setting. A gamble on a $35 million film that could cap a record year with Oscar glory is hardly a reckless bet by a studio that has seen just about every other gamble–including the turnaround title Straight Outta Compton–pay off big.

paranormal activityWhile not a prestige pic, Paramount’s Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension took a bold shot at changing the windows between theatrical and VOD. We won’t know for a bit whether this plan — which entails the title seguing to VOD 17 days after it drops below 300 runs — will work. The whole M.O.: To maximize the revenue on a short-burn theatrical film, which doesn’t have the legs of a SpongeBob or a Mission: Impossible. The film opened below projections to $8.07M at 1,656, much of which can be attributed to the fact that it was on 55% fewer screens than the previous sequel. Global receipts were OK at $26.2M for this midteen-budgeted film. While PA traditionally has launched in the frame prior to Halloween, it also didn’t help going up against another older-male film The Last Witch Hunter, which made $10.8M and didn’t make its numbers with a steep $75M-$80M cost.

Uni’s release of Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak from Legendary fell 57% in its second weekend with a current cume of $22.5M. Producer Thomas Tull supported del Toro in maintaining the R rating for the Gothic haunted-house film that cost $55M. However, it’s a film that’s too old fashioned, too tame for horror aficionados, and more in the vein of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. If the plan was to take this film wide so as to recoup its cost faster, than a PG-13 rating in hindsight would have been slightly more lucrative. Critics didn’t like it as much as Pan’s Labyrinth — 95% to 68% on Rotten Tomatoes — however, a platform release would have been ripe for the art house crowd that the film needed, which was the route that Pan’s Labyrinth went making $37.6M stateside and $83.3M worldwide. Del Toro tweeted out this wise saying today:

the walk 4After four weeks at the box office, Sony stopped reporting grosses to The Walk in the film’s fifth weekend, which fell out of the Top 10 and has collected only $9.7M at the domestic B.O. Robert Zemeckis sublimely re-created the World Trade Center circa 1974 in 3D at a low cost of $35M, but Sony sold the Joseph Gordon-Levitt film strictly on the basis that the film needed to be seen in Imax, where it played primarily alongside PLF in its first weekend and bombed with $1.56M at 448 theaters. Several distribution chiefs concurred that the subliminal message sent to audiences was “Don’t see this film in 2D.” Despite its platform, The Walk opened at the worst time in the fall: It was up against The Martian starring Matt Damon, another 3D title which dominated most of the month’s business. In the end, the bigger star won, with The Martian generating $166.2M through its fourth weekend. At least overseas is rallying for The Walk with an overseas take of $24.1M.

Beasts Of No Nation Idris ElbaMost perplexing of all the films this past weekend was trying to figure out how to evaluate Netflix’s gritty prestige film Beasts Of No Nation. It lost one-third of the 31 screens it had when the Cary Fukunaga-directed drama opened, and its gross through 10 days is only $84K. But what does that mean if you factor in the claim that Netflix honcho Ted Sarandos made to Deadline today that this movie already has been viewed on Netflix by more than 3M viewers in North America, and that it was the most-watched film last weekend in every country that Netflix operates in? That is a much bigger penetration than is reached by most art house movies given a traditional theatrical release, and it certainly makes you rethink the idea that the movie bombed at the box office. The bigger question is whether a hit on a streaming service puts it in the awards conversation. Just another puzzler on a memorable weekend.

The top 20 films per Rentrak Theatrical for the weekend of October 23-25:

1). The Martian (FOX), 3,504 theaters (-197) /3-day cume: $15.7M (-26%)/ Per screen average: $4,490 / Total cume: $166.2M /Wk 4

2). Goosebumps (SONY), 3,501 theaters (0) / 3-day cume: $15.5M (-34%)/ Per screen: $4,435 /Total cume: $43.7M /Wk 2

3). Bridge Of Spies (DIS), 2,811 theaters (0) /3-day cume: $11.4M (-26%)/ Per screen: $4,046 /Total cume: $32.6M /Wk 2

4). The Last Witch Hunter (LGF), 3,082 theaters / 3-day cume: $10.8M / Per screen: $3,508 /Wk 1

5). Hotel Transylvania 2 (SONY), 3,154 theaters (-379) /3-day cume: $8.9M (-30%) / Per screen: $2,871 / Total cume: $148.2M /Wk 5

6). Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (PAR), 1,656 theaters / 3-day cume: $8M / Per screen: $4,873 /Wk 1

7). Steve Jobs (UNI), 2,493 theaters (+2,433)/ 3-day cume: $7.1M (+370%/ Per screen: $2,850 /Total cume: $9.8M/Wk 3

8). Crimson Peak (UNI), 2,991 theaters (+7)/ 3-day cume: $5.7M (-57%)/ Per screen: $1,895 / Total cume: 22.6M /Wk 2

9). The Intern (WB), 2,061 theaters (-646)/ 3-day cume: $3.8M (-30%)/ Per screen: $1,837 /Total cume: $64.6M/ Wk 5

10). Sicario (LGF), 1,448 theaters (-682) /3-day cume: $2.8M (-38%) / Per screen: $1,965 /Total cume: $39.3M /Wk 6

11). Pan (WB), 1,944 theaters (-1,571) / 3-day cume: $2.6M (-55%) Per screen: $1,352 / Total cume: $29.9M /Wk 3

12). Woodlawn (PURE), 1,475 theaters (-78) / 3-day cume: $2.58M /Per screen: $1,746 / Total cume: $7.9M/Wk 2

13). Rock The Kasbah (OPEN), 2,012 theaters / 3-day cume: $1.5M / Per screen: $731 /Wk 1

14). Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (FOX), 1,008 theaters (-959)/3-day cume: $1.4M (-50%)/ Total cume: $77.7M/Wk 6

Jem and the Holograms15). Jem And The Holograms (UNI), 2,413 theaters / 3-day cume: $1.38M /Per screen: $570 /Wk 1

16). Black Mass (WB), 458 theaters (-597)/ 3-day cume: $579K (-55%)/ Per screen: $1,265 /Total cume: $61.3M/ Wk 6

17). Everest (UNI), 400 theaters (-550) /3-day cume: $554K (-54%) / Per screen: $1,365 /Total cume: $41.9M /Wk 6

18). The Visit (UNI), 508 theaters (-560)/ 3-day cume: $536K (-54%)/ Per screen: $1,055 / Total cume: $63.9M /Wk 7

19). War Room (SONY), 449 theaters (-350) /3-day cume: $496K (-47%)/ Per screen: $1,105 /Total cume: $66.3M /Wk 9

20). Shaandaar (FIP), 136 theaters (+4)/ 3-day cume: $385K / Per screen: $2,829 /Total cume: $434K /Wk 1

Notables

Room (A24), 23 theaters (+19)/ 3-day cume: $250K (+111%)/ Per screen: $10,856 /Total cume: $405K / Wk 2

SuffragetteTruth (SPC), 18 theaters (+12) /3-day cume: $190K (+64%)/ Per screen: $6,035 /Total cume: $204K / Wk 2

Suffragette (FOC), 4 theaters / 3-day cume: $76K /Per screen: $19,056 /Wk 1

I Smile Back (BGP), 2 theaters / 3-day cume: $16K / Per screen: $7,879 / Wk 1

Heart Of A Dog  (ABR), 1 theaters / 3-day cume: $13,893 / Total cume: $18K / Wk 1

Beasts of No Nation  (BST), 21 theaters (-10)/3-day cume: $13K (-73%)/ Per screen: $646  /Total cume: $84K / Wk 2

Julia  (ASD), 5 theaters / 3-day cume: $2,110 / Per screen: $422 / Wk 1

The Looking Glass (FR), 2 theaters / 3-day cume: $214 / Per screen: $107 / Wk 1