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Paranormal Activity Passes $100 Million Mark

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 13, 2009 at 2:04AM

As Paranormal Activity passes the $100 million mark, Paramount Pictures is celebrating a huge profit on a tiny investment. While the original budget figure is $15,000, the studio spent quite a bit more than that on sprucing up the movie, prints and about $10 million in marketing. After only five weekends of national release as of Friday, the movie is now the top-grossing R-rated thriller of the decade.
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Thompson on Hollywood

As Paranormal Activity passes the $100 million mark, Paramount Pictures is celebrating a huge profit on a tiny investment. While the original budget figure is $15,000, the studio spent quite a bit more than that on sprucing up the movie, prints and about $10 million in marketing. After only five weekends of national release as of Friday, the movie is now the top-grossing R-rated thriller of the decade.

Several studio marketing execs agree that Paramount's online marketing team took advantage of the perfect scenario--a horrific mock-documentary that was creepily realistic. But some caution that this is a one-time shot. They think the movie capitalized on audiences responding to a Blair Witch-style "it's true, it's real" phenomenon. I'd argue that the marketing cannily built on audience reaction to the movie being actually scary. "Tweet your scream" worked for Paranormal Activity, but similar campaigns activating moviegoers could also work on other films--as long as word-of-mouth was strong. It could save the studios millions. Why not build up to $100 million for a targeted $10 million instead of the usual wide release blast campaign? Again, an original believable psychological horror tale scored with moviegoers far more than a tired Saw VI which limped away from theaters and topped out at $26 million.

IM Global's Stuart Ford has been trying to sell North American rights to writer-director-producer Oren Peli's next film, Area 51, which is budgeted at $5 million and is already filming with another cast of unknowns. While Paramount and several other studios show no interest, Ford says a deal is in the offing.


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.