Even the real Steve Jobs flopped from time to time. Last weekend, Aaron Sorkin's dramatic reimagining of the life of the iconic entrepreneur and Apple co-founder had its own fail-to-launch moment.
Steve Jobs took in a mediocre $7.1 million at U.S. theaters, well below projections that were at one point as high as $20 million. For Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Pictures, which distributed, it's a rare miss.
But don't take my word for it. Look at the box-office returns for the biggest movies distributed by Universal this year:
|Film||Domestic Gross||Worldwide Total||Budget / M&D|
|Jurassic World||$651,713,686||$1,665,713,686||$150 million / $65 million|
|Furious 7||$351,032,910||$1,511,726,205||$190 million / $85 million|
|Minions||$334,798,960||$1,154,332,143||$74 million / $76 million|
|Fifty Shades of Grey||$166,167,230||$569,651,467||$40 million / $40 million|
|Pitch Perfect 2||$183,785,415||$285,165,784||$29 million / $46 million|
An out-of-this-world rival
To put the performance in perspective, Box Office Mojo says Steve Jobs drew just $2,850 per showing on 2,493 screens. By contrast, 21st Century Fox's (NASDAQ:FOXA) hit The Martian -- in its fourth weekend in theaters -- grabbed $4,490 per showing over 3,504 screens, resulting in $15.73 million in domestic grosses.
To be fair, losing to The Martian isn't really a black mark. Few films have ever topped the box office in their fourth weekend of release. The few who've done so have gone on to huge global numbers. Avatar, for example. With The Martian, Fox has struck box office gold. Oscar gold could be next.
Steve Jobs is also thought to be in the Oscar race, but moviegoers apparently didn't think enough of the picture to rank it above a number of supposedly lesser releases. Goosebumps ended the weekend ranked second with $15.53 million at the U.S. box office, followed by Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies at $11.37 million, and The Last Witch Hunter at $10.81 million. Of the weekend's top seven earners, only Hotel Transylvania 2 earned less per showing ($2,817) than did Steve Jobs.
Why this matters to investors
Even so, Universal isn't likely to be out much. Distributors only pay to get films to theaters and then promote them. Most often that amounts to somewhere between one-third and one-half of the production, which in the case of Steve Jobs was a reported $30 million. Producer Legendary Pictures is likely to have paid most of what it cost to make the film.
So why should entertainment investors care? Universal failed differently, to adapt a phrase associated with Apple under Jobs.
Rather than go immediately to wide release, which would have been typical considering the talent and budget attached to the film, Universal chose instead to screen in select locations to curated audiences. Four screens in week one grew to 60 in week two before last weekend's national rollout. Had it worked, we might have seen more mid-budget Oscar tries like Steve Jobs opt for a limited, PR-driven release to cut marketing costs. That it didn't means we'll see more posters, more trailers, and certainly more TV ads.
Or, to put in terms Jobs might appreciate, the movie industry isn't ready to Think Different.