Paranormal Activity 2 conjured up masses of moviegoers this weekend: the Paramount horror-thriller howled a hearty $41.5 million at 3,216 sites, a marvelous opening that outstrips the $30-million bows of several Saw chapters and marks a record for a horror film, outstripping the $40.6 million minted by 2009’sFriday the 13th reboot. Overseas, the sequel also pulled in $22 million in 21 territories. As anticipated heading into the weekend, Paramount delivered a double whammy, as it grabbed the No. 2 spot with holdover Jackass 3D, firing up a solid $21.6 million, off 57% -- a typical drop for guy fare.
Meanwhile, audiences checked out Clint Eastwood's supernatural drama Hereafter, starring Matt Damon, which pulled ahead of industry predictions with $12 million – a figure that bests the expansion frames of the multi-hyphenate’s award contenders Mystic River ($10.4 million) and Changeling ($9.4 million) as well as the wide opening for last year's Invictus ($8.6 million).
Why does the Paranormal Activity franchise click with crowds? The original director Oren Peli, who produced this one with director Tod Williams at the helm, cites the film’s sense of “realism." Inspired by The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project, Peli explains that while audiences turned their backs on recent chapters of horror-gore porn titles such as Hostel and Saw, the Paranormal Activity films are more accessible to a larger crowd: "All these movies are told in a straightforward way, without filmmaker tricks, with storytelling that was linear and very freaky. We never tried to hide the fact with the first one that this was a movie; the key to success to making it feel real boils down to the performance of the actors and their chemistry. It terrorizes people in a different way than just being slashed apart.”
Paramount marketers went straight for young fans’ jugulars, initially rolling out a controversial trailer withThe Twilight Sage: Eclipse this summer that was pulled from Cinemark’s Texas theaters because it was spooking teens. In the last week, the studio ratcheted up Paranormal Activity 2’s profile by empowering fans: they gave advance ticket buyers a free iTunes download of the first film as well as permitting them to demand midnight screenings in their hometown on October 21. Over a quarter million petitioned. A typical studio practice with genre films is holding back reviewers, so that word of mouth can trump mainstream critics’ naysaying. However, outlets such as USA Today and Entertainment Weekly enjoyed the film, fueling a 67% fresh score. The decision to forgo advance press screenings was more about raising anticipation. “We were very guarded, we wanted to surprise,” says Peli, who remains mum about the details of current projects such as Area 51.
Paramount rolled out the first Paranormal Activity in select cities before releasing it wide. The film’s first wide frame took $19.6 million at 760 venues while an even wider weekend at 1,945 reaped $21.1 million before ending its domestic run at $107.9 million. Needless to say that's an astonishing return on investment. Paranormal Activity 2 skewed more female this time around: 54% to 46% male, versus the first film’s 51% male crowd. Why the difference? A key suspense heightener was a wailing toddler in the sequel. Overall 61% of Paranormal Activity 2 attendees were under 25. Audiences gave it a B+ Cinemascore.
Warner Bros. succeeded in counter-programming Hereafter against Paranormal Activity 2 and grabbing adults, 80% over 30. They went after the female demo by placing TV spots during “Oprah” and “Ellen.” Sure enough, Hereafter drew 58% females. Eastwood’s best picture nominee Invictus faced stiff competition last December from other contenders in the market. Thus Warner Bros. decided to go early with Hereafter to give it some breathing room in the fall marketplace. General audiences gave it a C+ Cinemascore; the film played best in big cities where critics have been upbeat about the film. Top reviewers rated the film a 64% fresh vs. an overall 51% rotten.
The hope for Hereafter: Adult fare continues to hold extremely well. Red, Life As We Know It, Secretariat and Social Network are all experiencing respectable declines. Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman credits the trend to less clutter in the marketplace: “There are less films than in seasons past and people love to see movies. Less movies is good for distribution.”
The top 10 films are as follows:
1. Paranormal Activity 2 (Paramount): $41.5 million in its first weekend at 3,216 theaters. $12,904 theater average. Domestic total: $41.5 million.
2. Jackass 3D (Paramount): $21.6 million down 57% in its second weekend at 3,111 theaters. $6,943 theater average. Domestic total: $87.1 million.
3. Red (Summit): $15 million down 31% in its second weekend at 3,273 theaters. $4,583 theater average. Domestic total: $43.5 million.
4. Hereafter (Warner Bros.):$12 million up 5,349% in its second weekend at 2,181 theaters. $5,504 theater average. Domestic total: $12.3 million.
5. The Social Network (Sony): $7.3 million down 29% in its fourth weekend at 2,921 theaters. $2,499 theater average. Domestic total: $72.9 million.
6. Secretariat (Disney):$6.92 million down 26% in its third weekend at 3,108 theaters. $2,226 theater average. Domestic total: $37.4 million.
7. Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.): $6.15 million down 31% in its third weekend at 3,019 theaters. $2,037 theater average. Domestic total: $37.6 million.
8. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (Warner Bros.): $3.175 million down 25% in its fifth weekend at 2,236 theaters. $1,420 theater average. Domestic total: $50.2 million.
9. The Town (Warner Bros.): $2.72 million down 32% in its sixth weekend at 1,918 theaters. $1,418 theater average. Domestic total: $84.7 million.
10. Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems): $1.75 million down 33% in its sixth weekend at 1,632 theaters. $1,072 theater average. Domestic total: $54.8 million.
Check out this Paranormal Activity 2 reaction spot: