It's a painful flop for the director behind "A Beautiful Mind" and "Apollo 13."
One of the worst of his Oscar-winning career. With an $100 million production budget, the film will likely result in a steep write down for Warner Bros., the studio behind the seafaring epic.
"In the Heart of the Sea's" failure is the latest in a long string of missteps and disasters for the company, which is reeling from a litany of disasters that includes "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," "Jupiter Ascending," and "Pan."
The studio did catch a break over Thanksgiving when "Creed" emerged as a sleeper hit and its financial exposure is softened on "In the Heart of the Sea" because Village Roadshow was a financial partner.
"We stand behind Ron and his vision for the story," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. "We believe in him. He's a terrific filmmaker. But some movies work and unfortunately some movies don't."
"In the Heart of the Sea" reunites Howard with Chris Hemsworth. The pair previously collaborated on the racing drama "Rush." It centers on the Essex, a whaling vessel that had a violent encounter with a sperm whale. The nautical disaster inspired Herman Melville's"Moby Dick." Outside of the "Thor" movies, Hemsworth has struggled to establish himself as a box office draw -- "Rush" and this year's cyber thriller "Blackhat" both fizzled.
The film is the latest adult oriented drama to collapse at the box office, joining a list that includes "Steve Jobs," "Our Brand is Crisis," and "Burnt." The opening weekend audience for "In the Heart of the Sea" skewed older. Ticket buyers were 54% male and 68% over the age of 35. 3D screenings accounted for 42% of receipts.
Warner Bros. hopes it can make up some ground over the holidays, noting that the B+ CinemaScore means word-of-mouth will be solid.
"The adult audience has been slow to come out and that's frustrating because this is a story well told," said Goldstein.
Of course, the whole weekend was a throat clearing of sorts as the movie business braces for the debut of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" next week. The return to a galaxy far, far away is on pace to shatter records for a December opening and could threaten "Jurassic World's" debut of $208.8 million to become the biggest launch in history.
With "In the Heart of the Sea" flailing, "Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" captured first place for the fourth straight weekend with $11.3 million. The science-fiction franchise capper has earned $244.5 million domestically.
Among holdovers, "The Good Dinosaur" nabbed second place with $10.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $89.7 million. "Creed" captured fourth position with $10.1 million. The boxing drama has earned $79.3 million after three weeks of release.
"Krampus" dropped 58% in its second weekend of release to round out the top five with $8 million. The Christmas-themed horror film has earned $28.1 million stateside.