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Paranormal Activity 2 Scores Record $40.6 Million; Hereafter Nets $12 Million; Holdovers Hold Strong -- Weekend Box Office Review

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Paranormal Activity 2 blasted into the record books over the weekend, grossing $40.6 million in its first three days. That's the biggest opening ever for a supernatural horror picture, the second-largest debut for any kind of horror picture (behind Hannibal's $58 million debut in 2001), the biggest horror debut in October history, the fifth-biggest October opening on record, and the 19th-largest R-rated opening ever. Costing just $3 million, the Paramount sequel capitalized on the much-buzzed about original, which had a stunningly successful platform release over last September and October. If you recall, Paranormal Activity grossed $7.9 million on just 160 screens over the second weekend in October, and eventually went wide over the weekend before Halloween, where it famously kneecapped the long-running Saw franchise. If the original film's box office run slightly mirrored the run of the original Scream (small opening weekend, slow jog to $100 million+), then Paranormal Activity 2 is definitely Scream 2 (the Wes Craven sequel also came out a year after the original and scored an eye-popping $33 million debut in December 1997).Of course, the famous 'word-of-mouth' sensation (actually a marketing triumph, aided by Paramount not having anything else to spend money on that quarter) may give way to one of the least-leggy blockbusters ever. Paranormal Activity 2 also holds the unpleasant distinction of having the fourth-worst weekend multiplier on record, with a mere 2.02x weekend multiplier from its $20.1 million opening day. In fact, the film pulled in 15% ($6.3 million) of its weekend numbers just during its Friday 12:01am screenings, a feat exceeded only by The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which pulled in 18% of its $142 million weekend in midnight showings. So depending on how the film handles direct competition from Saw 3D next weekend and whether or not it survives past Halloween (the original pulled in an additional $23 million after Halloween), we may not even be talking about this one in three weeks. Still, a $3 million picture with minimal advertising (the best promotion was just attaching the trailer to Jackass 3D last weekend) just opened with $41.5 million. So we can expect Paranormal Activity 3 in a year or two.
The only other major opener was Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, which went wide after a weekend on six screens. The Matt Damon 'what happens when we die?' drama opened right in Eastwood's customary wheelhouse, with $12 million. Aside from flukes like Gran Torino ($29 million), Clint Eastwood pictures (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, The Changeling, etc) generally open wide in the $9-12 million range, so this is business as usual. Of course, the film cost $50 million, so it will need strong and leggy business to make a profit. That it opened this well despite the downbeat marketing campaign (complete with the creepy Invasion of the Body Snatchers poster) and mediocre reviews is a testament to Eastwood's fan loyalty and Matt Damon's box office pull. In limited release land, the Hillary Swank drama Conviction expanded to 55 screens, but only mustered $300,000.
In holdover land, Jackass 3D weathered the direct-demo competition of Paranormal Activity 2, dropping a mere (for this franchise) 57% and grossing $21 million, or about what the original Jackass made on its first weekend in 2002. This one has pulled down $86.6 million in ten days, easily besting the $72 million gross of Jackass part Two. It would seem that Jackass 3D is on track to crossing $100 million, if not the $119 million needed to surpass Fahrenheit 9/11 as the highest-grossing documentary ever. As for why Paramount decided to open two youth-skewing R-rated pictures within a week of each other, Paramount likely felt the need to open both sequels in the same general period if not the same weekend that the respective originals opened on. Both films were dirt cheap so all they had to do was open. And, intentionally or not, they fed into each other. The R-rated Jackass 3D was able to attach a trailer for Paranormal Activity 2, which means the $50 million worth of people who saw the former were fully aware of the latter opening right at the prime awareness period (week before release). Since neither of the films needed to be remotely leggy, it was a smart strategy for huge short-term earnings. The two films cost about $25 million to make, both with limited marketing budgets, and they will make around $225-250 million in domestic sales alone. With numbers like that, who needs Iron Man?
Red held up as the grown-up film of choice, as it dropped just 30% for a $15 million second weekend and a $43.5 million ten-day total. The film will surely surpass the $53 million gross of Letters to Juliet to become Summit's second-highest non-Twilight grosser, although surpassing the $79.9 million gross of Knowing is an uphill battle. With little fanfare, Red is about to become Bruce Willis's fourth highest grossing live-action vehicle in ten years, coming only behind Sin City ($74 million), Unbreakable ($96 million), and Live Free or Die Hard ($133 million). Despite losing IMAX screens to Paranormal Activity 2 (because nothing screams IMAX like glorified home movies), Legends of the Guardians dropped just 23%, ending its fifth weekend with $50 million. It's still an $80 million production, but the solid holds have to count for something, right? Life As We Know It has rebounded from a soft $14 million opening to reach $37.6 million, meaning the $38 million comedy will soon surpass 3x its opening weekend, which is considered leggy in this day and age. In fact, everything held pretty well this weekend, which I'm sure has nothing to do with the two biggest movies being massively popular R-rated pictures. I cannot imagine why all of those PG-13-rated (The Social Network, Easy A, Wall Street 2) and PG-rated (the obscenely leggy Secretariat, Legends of the Guardians) fare is doing so well this weekend, can you?
That's it for this weekend, folks. Join us next weekend for (sniffle-sniffle) the end of an era. The sole new wide release over Halloween weekend is the seventh and allegedly final chapter of the Saw franchise. But for those not feeling nostalgic for the John Kramer saga, enjoy these bits of Halloween lore, with the 10 scariest horror films of the last 20 years, the 10 best direct-to-DVD horror films, and the very worst horror films that my wife has forced me to see over the years (films so bad... they're scary!).
Scott Mendelson