Box Office Guru

Box Office Guru Wrap-Up: Theaters Buzz With Paranormal Activity

Plus, Astro Boy flies under the radarm and Amelia crashes and burns.

by | October 25, 2009 | Comments

This weekend what looked to be a close race between two major horror films ended up being no contest at all as moviegoers demanding a scare on the final full weekend before Halloween rallied behind the indie sensation Paranormal Activity which rose to number one in its fifth frame brutally punishing the opening for Saw VI which suffered the worst debut ever in the profitable franchise’s history. Three other new releases ended up with small chunks of change outside of the top five while the overall marketplace slumped below last year’s performance.

A month of building buzz and excitement paid off for Paramount as the studio went fully wide with its no-budget ghost story Paranormal Activity seizing the top spot with an estimated $22M. The R-rated supernatural thriller expanded from 763 to 1,945 locations and watched its gross creep up 12% from last weekend. The total now stands at an incredible $62.5M after two weeks of midnight-only shows and 17 days of conventional release. The per-theater average stood at a solid $11,311. With Halloween still a week away, Paranormal Activity could go on to crack the $100M mark which would be an amazing feat for a film that cost a mere $15,000 to make and did not have the usual pricey marketing investment.

Rather than serving up brutal torture like the Saw pics or using the slasher formula of so many other horror movies, Paranormal uses basic but very creative techniques to examine ghosts and things that go bump in the night as we sleep. The creepy thriller has come as a refreshing alternative to gory fright flicks and has scored big points with young women, and the men who follow them in order to get a date. Becoming a pop culture phenomenon, it still has plenty of untapped potential with curious ticketbuyers wanting to find out what the buzz is all about.


The success of Paranormal Activity was devastating to the debut of Saw VI which attracted an estimated $14.8M in ticket sales this weekend. Grosses were sliced in half compared to the last four installments of Lionsgate’s signature franchise which all consistently opened in the $30-34M range. Saw VI‘s bow stumbled a troubling 51% from Saw V‘s $30.1M and dropped a steep 53% from Saw IV‘s $31.8M. The new chapter averaged a moderate $4,874 from 3,036 theaters.

Part of the success of the Saw series came from a lack of competition. Generally when a new pic opened, no new fright films would debut against it and the strongest horror holdovers would gross relatively low amounts. So on the weekend before Halloween, Saw was virtually the only game in town. When Saw V opened a year ago, the only other scary movie in the top ten was Quarantine which grossed a measly $2.6M in its third frame while Saw IV‘s only competition in its top ten was 30 Days of Night which captured just $6.9M in its sophomore session.


But this year was different. Paranormal Activity and the second weekend of The Stepfather combined for $28.5M worth of business from moviegoers looking to be terrified. So is this the beginning of the end to the Jigsaw franchise? Not necessarily. Paranormal represents a unique situation that may not be repeated any time soon so the next Saw flick may just face a better competitive environment. Plus Saw VII is being shot in 3D and films like My Bloody Valentine and The Final Destination have shown this year that horror fans are more than willing to shell out the extra cash for a good extra-dimensional screamfest. But other studios have now tasted blood and know that the Saw franchise is not indestructible anymore so they may be more aggressive in their programming of horror movies next October.

Last weekend’s wild rumpus cleared pretty quickly as Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are tumbled 56% in its sophomore frame to an estimated $14.4M taking third place. With $54M in ten days, the $75M production should end its domestic run with about $80-85M for Warner Bros as the PG-rated film is not holding up like most good kidpics do, especially since it faced very little direct competition this weekend.


The Jamie Foxx-Gerard Butler action thriller Law Abiding Citizen remained strong in its second weekend dropping only 40% to an estimated $12.7M putting it in fourth place. In only ten days, the R-rated revenge pic edged past the $40.1M of Righteous Kill to become the highest-grossing release in Overture’s short history. A final tally of around $70M may result.

Moviegoers looking for a laugh continued to show up for Vince Vaughn’s Couples Retreat which grossed an estimated $11.1M, down 36% in its third frame, boosting the 17-day tally to $78.2M. The Universal release is still on a trajectory to hit $100M.


Kids don’t seem to care about animated films if they aren’t in 3D anymore. Summit released the toon adventure Astro Boy very wide in 3,014 sites but pulled in just $7M in ticket sales, according to estimates, leaving a dismal $2,328 average. The PG-rated film carried a $65M production budget and was financed by Hong Kong’s Imagi Animation Studios which hit number one two years ago with the turtle power toon TMNT.

Considering all the fright competition, The Stepfather fared well in its second outing dropping just 44% to an estimated $6.5M. With $20.4M in ten days, look for Sony’s $19M production to finish with $30-35M.

Universal’s Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant flopped in eighth place grossing just $6.3M, according to estimates, averaging a weak $2,305 from 2,754 locations. The PG-13 film failed to pull in that many fans of the book series and couldn’t convince fright fans when two much bigger scary movies were topping the charts. Studio research showed that 51% of the audience was female and 53% was under 25.


Sony rounded out the top ten with a pair of former number ones which have both done very well for the studio. The animated hit Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs dipped 30% to an estimated $5.6M while the horror-comedy Zombieland dropped 44% to an estimated $4.3M. Totals now stand at $115.2M and $67.3M, respectively. Zombieland now has the distinction of being the year’s top-grossing horror pic, although Paranormal Activity will swipe that title by Wednesday or Thursday.

Opening outside of the top ten with a small gross and a respectable average was Hilary Swank’s biopic Amelia which bowed to an estimated $4M from 818 locations for a $4,921 average. The Fox Searchlight release about aviator Amelia Earhart earned weak reviews and played to an older and more female audience. The average almost matched the $5,055 that last October’s Changeling with Angelina Jolie generated when it went wide after a limited bow.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $104.8M which was down 10% from last year when High School Musical 3 opened in the top spot with $42M; but up 29% from 2007 when Saw IV debuted at number one with $31.8M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, Box Office Guru

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