Weekend Box Office

Box Office Guru Wrapup: Audiences Eat Up Wild Things

Law Abiding Citizen and Paranormal Activity round out the top three.

by | October 18, 2009 | Comments

Moviegoers poured into multiplexes to see a wide range of appealing films powering the box office to the biggest October weekend in history. Leading the way was the new adventure pic Where the Wild Things Are which bowed at number one followed by an exceptionally strong debut for the action entry Law Abiding Citizen in second. The most impressive performance came in third with the national expansion of the indie thriller Paranormal Activity which delivered the best average of any film. The four new wide releases kicked in a stunning $86M powering the Top 20 to $135M, a new record high for the month.

Audiences rushed out to see Where the Wild Things Are making the adaptation of the popular kids book the top film with an estimated $32.5M in ticket sales. Averaging a ferocious $8,693 from 3,735 theaters, the PG-rated pic scored the eighth biggest October opening ever and the third highest for a kidpic during the month trailing only Shark Tale ($47.6M in 2004) and High School Musical 3 ($42M in 2008). It was also the second widest launch during the month after Shark Tale‘s bow in 4,016 locations.


While the opening weekend was undoubtedly powerful, the long-term outlook is not as clear. Friday began with a potent $12.1M debut but Saturday inched up only 2% to $12.3M. Family-oriented films during the school year typically see large Saturday jumps in sales thanks to the target audience being more available. In recent weeks, Friday-to-Saturday increases on opening weekend for kidpics Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the Toy Story double feature were 62% and 69%, respectively. Wild Things seems to be playing more to an adult audience appealing to those who read the book as a kid and to hipsters who enjoy director Spike Jonze’s unique style of filmmaking.

Jonze took a nine-sentence book, stretched it into a 100-minute movie, and added plenty of new material including names and backstories for all the Wild Things and a deeper look into the home life of the nine-year-old boy at the center of the story. Reviews have been mixed with critics having a wide range of feelings for the film. Warner Bros. invested heavily into the marketing of Wild Things hoping to appeal to the broadest possible audience since the movie is not the typical family film that Hollywood churns out. The $75M production unspooled in 145 IMAX locations which accounted for $3.1M, or nearly 10% of the weekend tally.


Liam Neeson isn’t the only actor from across the pond to hit it big with a revenge thriller this year. Gerard Butler enjoyed a surprisingly potent bow for the action drama Law Abiding Citizen, also starring Jamie Foxx, which grossed an estimated $21.3M from 2,890 theaters for a stellar $7,353 average. The R-rated story of a man that plots a series of assassinations from jail to get back at those responsible for the killings of his wife and daughter played to a broad audience with males slightly outnumbering females. Neeson’s kidnapping thriller Taken was an unlikely blockbuster last winter when it bowed to $24.7M over Super Bowl weekend on its way to a $145M final.

Butler and Foxx are certainly no guarantees at the box office. The former’s action pic Gamer opened to just $9.2M last month while the latter’s The Soloist debuted to a weak $9.7M in April. But the actor combo, the appealing storyline, and an aggressive marketing push helped to make it the biggest opening ever in Overture’s short history easily beating the $16.3M of last fall’s cop drama Righteous Kill with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Citizen should have no problem beating Kill‘s $40.1M total to become the distributor’s top grosser too.


Paramount expanded its micro-budgeted horror hit Paranormal Activity nationwide this weekend following three weeks of limited play and saw sales nearly triple to an estimated $20.2M. Freaking out moviegoers in 760 theaters, up from 160 last weekend, the R-rated spookfest averaged a sensational $26,530 per location matching almost to the dollar the $26,528 average of The Blair Witch Project when it went nationwide during the summer of 1999. That indie overachiever shot up to number two on the charts in its third weekend when it expanded from 31 to 1,101 theaters grossing $29.2M.

In its first day of wide release on Friday, Paranormal took in $6.7M, then rose 15% to $7.7M on Saturday. The studio is projecting a slim 25% dip on Sunday to $5.8M. The total now stands at $33.7M with another expansion set for this Friday as it goes head-to-head with the opening of the latest installment of the horror industry’s top franchise Saw VI which attacks 3,000 theaters. Still, with the much-talked-about ghost story continuing to add theaters, and Halloween two weeks away, Paranormal Activity has the potential to finish with at least $75M.

Continuing to use out-of-the-box marketing tactics to generate excitement (and sales), the studio has launched a contest that will reward the first ten theaters that sell out their midnight shows this Thursday night with a special party. This promotion is just the latest technique that keeps fans involved with the film’s release as it further infiltrates pop culture. To date, the marketing and distribution campaign has been executed with military precision.


Last weekend’s top choice Couples Retreat suffered a rocky second outing dropping 48% to an estimated $17.9M despite not having any new comedies enter the marketplace. With a solid $63.3M taken in over ten days, Universal should find its way to a final domestic tally of $100-110M making it only the second film of the year to join the century club for the troubled studio. Fast & Furious grossed $155.1M last spring. Vince Vaughn’s 2006 Universal relationship trouble flick The Break-Up, which like Retreat he also produced, witnessed an identical 48% plunge in its sophomore frame.

Sony’s latest horror film The Stepfather had a lukewarm $12.3M debut in fifth place, according to estimates. The PG-13 thriller averaged a decent $4,499 from 2,734 locations and skewed towards young women. Studio research showed that 54% of the audience was female and 55% was under 21 for the $19M production. Sony usually does better with its mid-October fright films. Last year, Quarantine bowed to $14.2M, 30 Days of Night debuted to $16M in 2007, and The Grudge 2 opened to $20.8M in 2006. The added competition from Paranormal Activity made an impact.


The animated comedy Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs broke the $100M mark on Thursday in its 28th day of release and added an estimated $8.1M to its total over the weekend. That gave the Sony hit a slender 30% decline and a new total of $108.3M which is remarkable for a fall pic. Meatballs is only the fourth September release of this entire decade to cross the century mark joining Remember the Titans ($115.6M in 2000), Sweet Home Alabama ($127.2M in 2002), and Eagle Eye ($101.4M in 2008).

The studio claimed the next spot too with the horror-comedy Zombieland with an estimated $7.8M, down 47%, resulting in a cume of $60.8M. Disney extended the limited run of its double feature Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) beyond its planned two-week period and grossed an estimated $3M in its third round. Tumbling 61%, the dynamic duo raised the sum to $28.6M in 17 days.


Rounding out the top ten were Buena Vista’s Surrogates and the Warner Bros. pic
The Invention of Lying
with an estimated $1.9M each. The Bruce Willis actioner dropped 55% and has grossed $36.3M to date while the Ricky Gervais comedy fell 43% lifting the cume to $15.5M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $126.9M which was up a stunning 59% from last year when Max Payne opened in the top spot with $17.6M; and up a staggering 75% from 2007 when 30 Days of Night debuted at number one with $16M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, Box Office Guru

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