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'Ouija' likely to outspook Keanu Reeves' 'John Wick'

Looks like board games are on track to make a comeback on the big screen.

"Ouija," distributed by Universal Pictures, is expected to top the box office with about $25 million this weekend, according to people who have seen pre-audience release surveys.

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This would put it ahead of last weekend's winner, "Fury," and newcomer "John Wick," which stars Keanu Reeves.

The PG-13 rated "Ouija," which cost about $5 million to make, follows a group of friends who look to the Ouija Board after one of their friends is killed in an accident. The film was produced by Blumhouse Productions and Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes.

Universal is anticipating a more modest opening of about $18 million. Using a lofty digital marketing campaign, the film, based on Hasbro's board game, targeted teen audiences. Tracking suggests it will largely draw in audiences under 25 and younger adult females.

Leading up to its Friday opening, Universal Pictures released a 20-second trailer for the movie on popular app Snapchat.

"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. "If it hadn’t been a movie tied to a teen audience, we probably wouldn’t have taken this opportunity."
The studio also organized a seance and film screening at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Hasbro Studios President Stephen Davis expressed enthusiasm for the film's box office prospects.

"With any re-imagination of a brand, you may have core characters, you may have a lore and canon like with Transformers, but you also want to create a more expansive world because it's about creating something new, something fresh," he told The Times. "That holds true for brands like Transformers as much as it does for Ouija."

With the lack of Halloween horrors, the film will also fill a void for those who like getting spooked.

Jason Blum, the low-budget horror producer who runs Blumhouse, has had success with films of the same genre, like several "Paranormal Activity" films, at the box office.

In 2009, the first installment of "Paranormal Activity," which cost only $15,000 to make, scared up audiences and went on to gross about $107 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Fandango, the nation's largest online movie ticket company, said Thursday that the upcoming "Ouija" is leading the weekend in ticket sales. It scored a 77 out of 100 on the company's Fanticipation movie buzz indicator.

According to 1,000 ticket buyers surveyed by Fandango, 79% identify the film as their "Halloween season movie of choice" and 55% said they have played the Ouija board game.

Meanwhile, Word War II film "Fury" will likely add $15 million in its sophomore weekend. 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 thriller "Gone Girl," based on the popular novel by Gillian Flynn, is expected to follow and gross just less than $15 million in its third weekend.

"John Wick," distributed by Lionsgate, currently boasts a 92% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But some analysts suggest marketing hasn't lured enough moviegoers.

Although positive word-of-mouth could help the film to gross as much as $15 million, tracking suggests it will pull in only $10 million. Lionsgate is estimating a gross of about $7 million to $8 million.

The R-rated film follows an ex-hitman (Reeves) who comes out of retirement to track down gangsters who took everything from him. It will likely draw in large male audiences.

By comparison, Reeves' last film "47 Ronin" opened to a dismal $9.9 million in December 2013. Critics gave the film, which cost a whopping $175 million to make, a low 14% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Weinstein Company and Chernin Entertainment's "St. Vincent," starring Bill Murray, will expand nationwide. The film, which opened two weeks ago in limited release, could pull in about $7 million this weekend.

"Laggies," starring Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz, and "White Bird in a Blizzard," starring Shailene Woodley, will open in limited release.

For more news on the entertainment industry, follow me @saba_h

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