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Weekend Box Office: Paranormal Activity 4 Drops But Still Tops While Alex Cross Is Quite Cross

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When you have a sequel that cost just $5 million, it's not really a big deal when your opening weekend drops about 43 percent from the last time around.  Yes, Paranormal Activity 4 opened with "just" $30 million, which is much lower than the $52 million debut of Paranormal Activity 3 last year and the $40 million debut of Paranormal Activity 2 two years ago.  But with micro-budgets like this, who cares?  Amusingly, it actually followed the exact same midnight-to-weekend pattern as the first two sequels, earning 15 percent of its opening weekend ($4.5 million) at Thurs night/midnight advance screenings.  Obviously audiences aren't quite as jazzed for the series, which isn't exactly a surprise.  We've had four films in three years.  Even if we admit that the series is dropping faster than the Saw franchise (which took six entries to really drop like a rock), we have to admit that $30 million was the average number for the first four Saw sequels and none topped an opening bigger than $33 million.  Fittingly, it was partially the competition of the platforming first Paranormal Activity that gutted Saw VI (ironically the best entry in the seven-part series) three Halloweens ago, basically tossing the reigning king off the mountain and stealing the crown (read the historical scrolls HERE).

With around $56 million worldwide in three days, it's going to take a much harder fall than what we witnessed this weekend to bury the Paranormal Activity series, especially with Paramount not exactly rolling in franchises these days.  This is a studio's wet-dream, earning incredibly large profits for almost no money.  Yes, audiences are cooling off a bit and perhaps the alleged mediocrity of the fourth installment (I didn't see it, but I know people who liked the three previous installments who hated this one) will do serious damage to Paranormal Activity 5, just as the rather awful Saw V was a major factor in the poor box office of the vastly superior Saw VI.  But until the budgets for these glorified home movies grow to a point where they aren't making their entire production budget back by midnight, this series is here to stay.  Anyway, the film earned a C from Cinemascore as opposed to a C+ for the last film.  It played 50/50 male/female and 60 percent under 25. Still, eventually some other horror franchise will explode out of the blue and take control of the Halloween season.  For better or worse, we'll be seeing a few more of these before the end.  And if I'm a little sad about passing on one of those Thursday screenings, it's not because I like the series so much as I enjoy sitting in a crowded theater watching everyone else scream and shout on cue.

The only other new wide debut was the Tyler Perry vehicle Alex Cross.  Loosely based on one of the many James Patterson novels, this franchise-relaunch was an attempt to bring back the character that Morgan Freeman played to moderate box office success in the underrated Kiss the Girls and the really underrated Along Came A Spider back in 1997 and 2001 respectively.  The Lionsgate film opened with just $11.75 million, making it not only a disappointment in terms of franchise expectations but the lowest-grossing opening for a Tyler Perry-on front of camera film ever, even lower than the $15 million debut of Good Deeds earlier this year.  The reasoning behind the somewhat disappointing debut is pretty simple.  Many of Perry's fans are the sort of socially conservative sorts that wouldn't entirely be drawn to an ultra-violent series like the James Patterson novels (trust me, the movies, even the R-rated Freeman ones, are severely toned down).  Despite the PG-13, the marketing emphasized the horrible violence committed by Matthew Fox's super-villain in a way that arguably turned off many of those who flocked to Why Did I Get Married or Madea's Big Happy Family.  Perry's melodramas may deal in some disturbing subject matter, but it's all implied and/or off-screen.

On the other side of the coin, the Patterson fans weren't too thrilled with Tyler Perry's casting, especially when he basically replaced Idris Elba in what amounts to a bold-faced "we're trading the superior actor for a brand-name movie star" move.  Add an inexplicable PG-13 to the mix, and the Patterson fans decided to pass.  For general audiences the film came off like a sub-par episode of Criminal Minds (a show that is basically James Patterson-meets-Justice League), which reviews mostly confirmed.  For comparison, Kiss the Girls opened with $13 million and ended with $60 million back in October 1997 while Along Came A Spider opened with $16 million and ended with $74 million in April 2001.  If Perry wants to ' break out', he needs to take a major supporting role in someone else's prestige picture rather than merely expect his fans to follow him to a wholly different genre.  Those that saw the film liked it, giving it an A grade, and the film cost just $25 million to produce.  A planned sequel, Double Cross, has already been announced, so unless the film completely drops like a stone and can't clear $60 million worldwide, we'll probably see another one in a couple years.  Truth be told, I can't help wonder how much better the finished product would have been had Perry actually directed it.  Come what may, ugly visuals and shakey-cam issues are not generally found in a Tyler Perry film.  Next time, demand that Perry direct as well and let it go out with an R-rating.

The big limited release debut was the Helen Hunt/John Hawkes drama The Sessions.  The Oscar bait film about a paraplegic and the sex therapist who 'treats' him earned $30,200 a screen on four screens.  Of course, we have no idea if the film will catch on beyond the art house, so stay tuned.  The big holdover news was the strong hold for Ben Affleck's Argo.  The terrific historical thriller (fictionalized in certain spots of course) earned another $16.6 million, a drop of just 14 percent from last weekend.  This film is clearly becoming the adult movie of choice as well as the general consensus 'second choice' option and it may stay that way for at least the next few weeks until Flight and Skyfall are both available.  With $43 million, the film has basically earned back its $44 million production budget in ten days and it has an outside shot at $100 million domestic.  It actually had a larger second weekend than The Town, which dropped a perfectly decent 34 percent and earned $15 million off a larger $23 million debut two years ago.  If this continues, Argo will start tracking ahead of The Town by next weekend and finish ahead of that film's $92 million domestic final.  Ben Affleck is clearly one of the top directors working today in the realm of 'the kind of film they don't make anymore' and he may end up with an Oscar or two in a few months.  If you're only recently discovering his directorial talents, please rent his superb first film, Gone Baby Gone.

For the rest of this article, specifically concerning older releases, go HERE.