"Ouija" grossed an estimated $20 million at the box office this weekend, outspooking the Keanu Reeves action film "John Wick," which brought in a better-than-expected $14.2 million.
Based on the Hasbro game, "Ouija" follows a group of friends who look to the board after one of their friends is killed in an accident. Universal Pictures had projected that the PG-13 film, which cost just $5 million to make, would open at about $18 million in the U.S. and Canada. The film lured audiences who wanted to get their scary-movie fix.
"This was the perfect release date leading up to Halloween," said Universal's head of distribution, Nikki Rocco. "We knew Halloween, on a Friday, would not be a great box office day."
Last week, Universal released a 20-second trailer for the movie on popular app Snapchat to market the film with teen audiences.
"We believed that the Snapchat user is in our core target user for the 'Ouija' movie opening Friday," Doug Neil, Universal's executive vice president of digital marketing, told The Times last week. "If it hadn't been a movie tied to a teen audience, we probably wouldn't have taken this opportunity."
The digital marketing campaign succeeded in attracting a huge teen turnout: About 68% of moviegoers were younger than 21. Females made up 61% of audiences.
Blumhouse Productions and Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes produced the film. Jason Blum, the low-budget horror producer who runs Blumhouse, has had success with films of the same genre, including several "Paranormal Activity" movies.
In 2009, the first installment of "Paranormal Activity," which cost only $15,000 to make, scared audiences and went on to gross about $107 million in the U.S. and Canada.
"Blumhouse has had a great track record," Rocco said. "They have gotten so many of their micro-budget films to turn in Number 1 results."
"Ouija" hasn't fared as well with critics. The film received a C grade from audience polling firm CinemaScore and a meager 10% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The R-rated film follows an ex-hitman (Reeves) who comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters who took everything from him.
It drew a 60% male audience, and about 77% of moviegoers were older than 25.
"John Wick" boasts a high 86% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a B on CinemaScore.
By comparison, Reeves' last film "47 Ronin" opened to a dismal $9.9 million in December 2013. Critics gave the film, which cost $175 million to make, a low 14% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The World War II film "Fury" fell to third in its second weekend. It pulled in $13 million, raising its total gross to about $46.1 million.
The David Ayer-directed film follows Sgt. Don Collier (Brad Pitt), who leads a U.S. Army tank crew (played by Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal) across Nazi-controlled Germany.
David Fincher's "Gone Girl" added about $11.1 million for fourth place in its fourth weekend. The 20th Century Fox film, based on Gillian Flynn's popular novel, has grossed more than $124 million at the box office to date.
Animated film "The Book of Life" rounded out the top five. It added $9.8 million, making its domestic gross to date about $29.9 million.
The Bill Murray vehicle "St. Vincent" saw success in its nationwide rollout. The film follows a cranky old man who comes to realize the meaning of his life through the help of a lonely 12-year-old neighbor. The Weinstein Co. and Chernin Entertainment film came in sixth with $8.1 million, raising its three-week total to about $9.2 million.
"It was right where we figured it would come in," said Erik Lomis, head of distribution for the Weinstein Co.
Lomis said it showed great strength in smaller markets such as Boston, Phoenix, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.
"That speaks towards the playability and the appeal it has in middle, small-town America," Lomis said. "Which in my view and experience will indicate it has very good legs."
The film drew a 60% female audience, and about 72% of moviegoers were older than 35. It received a grade of A-minus on CinemaScore, the highest of the three films to go into wide release this weekend.
The Weinstein Co. pushed the nationwide rollout up because of the film's early success.
"We were going to go a little slower but we accelerated the plan based on the playability of the film and how well it resonated with audiences," Lomis said.
"And the fact that there's an opportunity in the marketplace because we are so different than everything else out there."
In limited release, "Birdman" continued to soar in 18 new markets and 46 theaters for a total of 50 locations. The film grossed more than $1.4 million in its second weekend, with a per screen average of more than $28,700. The film's gross to date is about $2 million.
Now in 373 locations, "Dear White People" followed closely behind "Birdman," adding $1.3 million to its gross. The satire on race relations has brought in about $1.8 million to date.