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Box office report: Paranormal Activity 2 Sets Milestone for a Horror Release

Paranormal Activity 2
Paranormal Activity 2
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Last weekend witnessed the biggest horror movie opening of all time. The horror genre is unique in that it produces hits, but rarely blockbusters. But the ratio for budget versus earnings is sizable when matched against those that rake in over $200 million dollars. Still, if audiences keep attending, studios will keep producing a steady stream of horror movies and hope one does so well that a sequel is all but a given. With the success of the Saw franchise (over $700 million earned theatrically for the six films released), you just knew other studios wish they could have a series of films that are made on the cheap but produce gigantic returns.

Paranormal Activity is a film that almost wasn’t. The story is that Paramount Pictures had acquired the feature but was sitting on it. They liked the concept, but felt it was too small – no way an audience would pay to see it. So ideas were tossed around on what do with it. Releasing it direct to video and a studio budget remake were considered, but it was Steven Spielberg’s winning approval that convinced the executives to release the film as it was. (Spielberg did suggest a few tweaks be made before it got a roll out in theatres.) Generating buzz with advance screenings and word-of-mouth advertising, Paranormal Activity was a $15,000 feature that would become a $194 million worldwide hit. A decade earlier, The Blair Witch Project grossed a staggering $248 million, but with a production budget of only $60,000. A sequel to Blair Witch was quickly greenlit, but the sequel earned a fraction of its predecessor.

When the month of October rolled around, audiences were starving for thrills and scares. And while Saw and its sequels have been an October ritual these past six (soon to be seven) years, it looks like Paranormal Activity is likely to follow the trend. The sequel outperformed expectations, and gave Paramount Pictures its second consecutive weekend of monster openings.

While the first Paranormal Activity slowly trickled in to theaters – from 12 screens its first weekend to 2,712 screens in its eighth weekend – the sequel opened on 3,216 screens at the start. Now it is unclear if its opening will stand firm in succeeding weeks – it will be competing against the last Saw installment(?) next weekend – but the audience I watched it with seemed to enjoy it. One viewer even thought it was better than the first one. But audiences can be fickle when it comes to horror. In 2009, Friday the 13th had a monstrous opening of $40 million, but only made $65 million overall. And with the Saw series, it peaked in 2006 when Saw III opened at $33 million. If the production budget of Paranormal Activity 2 is to be believed ($3 million), Paramount is surely happy with its $41.5 million debut.

Settling for the silver this week is the only other Paramount release in the top ten, Jackass 3D. Despite dropping 57 percent, because its opening was so strong, it was enough for it to become the biggest installment in the series. Should Jackass 3D lose half of its $21.6 million gross from this weekend, it will comfortably pass the $100 million mark, and could finish its run with $125 million domestic. Johnny Knoxville and the boys easily distanced themselves from the geriatrics that headline the action-comedy Red. With a $15 million haul in its second weekend, and $43 million overall, it is still a good investment by Summit Entertainment. The film may not be a bonafide hit for Bruce Willis, but at least it makes him relevant until a new Die Hard comes calling.

Tailing the old-timers is another picture appealing to older audiences. Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter expanded this weekend and actually performed better than his last feature, Invictus, both of which starred Matt Damon. Both Red and Hereafter are playing well to the 30-and-older crowd, but Eastwood’s meditative feature about spirituality could have used a scene where Matt Damon would avoid authorities Jason Bourne style. As you can see there is a divide between the films that finish first and second and the two that trail them. Youth was attending late night showings in mass, while Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood were viewed by early birds.

Seeing minor drops in attendance were Secretariat and The Social Network. Both have outperformed their production budgets, though not by much. But it is interesting to see how well the horse drama is performing. Like the famed horse, the film keeps chugging along. It may even find itself passing David Fincher’s film next weekend. While the movie about Facebook would like to make it past $100 million, it may be tough going. It’s currently sitting at $72 million. $80 million is a sure bet, but another $20 million domestic is pushing it.

For the life of me I can’t understand why Life As We Know It is still in the top ten. As the only “chick” movie playing to major audiences, I guess housewives need something to do with their girlfriends after lunch.

The Legend of the Guardians made it across $50 million and that was with the added surcharge of 3-D. In two weeks, it will be obliterated from the top ten when Megamind arrives. To the film’s credit, it has held on respectably as the weeks have gone by. Still hanging around are Ben Affleck’s The Town – it should end its run with $90 million – and Easy A, a comedy that has been the best surprise this fall. Screen Gems’ investment could have $60 million domestic when it is all said and done.

On the arthouse scene, the education awareness doc, Waiting for “Superman”, performed the very best. After five weeks it has a $3.7 million haul. Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger adds 284 screens and earned $461k. Stone, starring Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, expanded to 113 screens but could only manage $358k. And Conviction expanded to 55 screens and earned $300k over the weekend.

1. Paranormal Activity 2 – $41.5 million
2. Jackass 3D – $21.6 million ($87 million overall)
3. Red – $15 million ($44 million overall)
4. Hereafter – $12 million ($12.3 million overall)
5. The Social Network – $7.3 million ($73 million overall)
6. Secretariat- $6.9 million ($37 million overall)
7. Life As We Know It- $6.1 million ($38 million overall)
8. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – $3.2 million ($50 million overall)
9. The Town – $2.7 million ($85 million overall)
10. Easy A – $1.8 million ($55 million overall)

Box Office Estimates taken from Box Office Mojo.

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