Inferno is director Ron Howard's 4th flop at the North American box office

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters, NYTimes) - This is how a franchise ends.

Inferno, the latest big-screen tour through Dan Brown's historical conspiracy theories, flamed out at the weekend box office, earning a frosty US$15 million (S$20.88 million) in the United States and Canada.

Directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones, it cost Sony Pictures and LStar Capital roughly US$75 million to make, not counting tens of millions in marketing costs.

Even more humiliating: It was beaten by the second weekend of Tyler Perry's low-cost comedy, Boo! A Madea Halloween, which repeated as the No.1 multiplex draw and collected an estimated US$16.7 million for Lionsgate for a stateside total of US$52 million.

Inferno, which received scorchingly bad reviews, has taken in a sturdy US$135 million in two weeks of release overseas, Sony said on Sunday. But the North American movie market remains the world's largest, and Howard has now delivered four domestic flops in a row. His last hit (Angels & Demons, the previous film of a Brown novel) was in 2009; since then, he has delivered The Dilemma (2011), Rush (2013), In The Heart Of The Sea (2015), and, now, Inferno.

"We are proud of Ron's film, and it's clear from the numbers we're seeing around the world that the film is striking a chord with global audiences," Mr Josh Greenstein, Sony's president of worldwide marketing and distribution, said in an e-mail.

On the dramatic opposite end of the scale, a director at the start of his career, Barry Jenkins, blew off the art-house doors with Moonlight, a meditative film with a microscopic budget and no proven stars.

In extremely limited release - just 36 cinemas (compared with 3,576 for Inferno) - Moonlight took in nearly US$1 million for indie film company A24, a very strong result.

Moonlight, which follows a young black man as he struggles to find his place in the world, has received euphoric reviews. But its commercial success has not been guaranteed outside of the cinephile strongholds of New York and Los Angeles. A big test, at least in the eyes of A24, was turnout in suburban locations, and Moonlight succeeded, delivering big crowds (and solid exit polls) at suburban cinemas in Georgia and near Washington.

Next weekend, Moonlight will expand to about 100 locations.