In the battle between phantasms and slashers at the Halloween weekend box office, the latter won out as Lionsgate’s Saw 3D hooked the top spot with $24.2 million at 2,808 theaters --the fifth-best bow for the Jigsaw series. Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 2 dropped to second with $16.5 million, off 59% from its solid bow a week ago---not too bloody for a horror title, which can plunge as much as 70% on the second weekend.
Saw’s domination reps sweet revenge for Lionsgate and producer Twisted Pictures. A year ago, the distributor was blindsided by the success of Paranormal Activity which expanded to 1,945 locations and cut into the Saw VI’s ticket sales, resulting in lows for the franchise, for both opening weekend ($14.1 million) and domestic cume ($27.7 million). So why go back and make another one?
“We looked at the exit polls and decided people still loved it," explains producer Oren Koules. "But we also wanted to wrap up some of the story and character lines. We always wanted to bring Cary Elwes' character [Dr. Lawrence Gordon] back.”
What kept Saw sharper than Paranormal Activity this time around? Two factors: 3-D and Paranormal Activity was no longer the new kid on the block. Add 3-D to a horror title and it seems to work: it reinvigorated the latest chapter grosses of The Final Destination ($66.5 million) and Resident Evil ($60 million) to record highs, particularly overseas, where returns were close to four times domestic for the zombie film. Saw filmmakers made sure that they wouldn’t be fingered as another 3-D poser by retroverting from 2-D: they committed to shooting with a SI-3-D camera system, enabling them to pull off the signature fast close-ups from previous Saws. But this doubled the cost for part seven: recent Saw titles have cost between $10-$11 million. The investment paid off: 92% of Saw 3D's tickets sales were from digital hubs.
Also working in Saw 3D’s favor: Paranormal Activity 2 was released like a standard horror wide release, rather than a platform which responded to a cult crowd’s demand. Audiences had already seen Paranormal Activity 2 and were ready for their next dose of terror.
Lionsgate held critics back from Saw 3D, a common practice among distributors when marketing a horror release. Currently, Saw 3D has charted an 8% Rotten Score, panned by 36 reviewers. It hardly mattered. Cinemascore was B-, in sync with previous Saw sequels and besting the C+ of the original. 53% of the crowd was under 25, skewing toward males: 56%.
Whenever Halloween falls on a weekend, it rarely bodes well in terms of the total weekend haul for all films compared to holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Over the past decade, thanks in part to Saw and The Grudge flicks, trick-or-treaters expect a horror-themed film and will break from partying to venture to the cinema. Distributors usually counter-program during the frame, unspooling adult demo films such as 2004’s Ray ($20 million) and, last year, Michael Jackson’s This Is It ($23.2 million). Fox Searchlight noticed that adults didn’t have fresh choices this weekend and expanded its Hilary Swank-Sam Rockwell legal drama Conviction from 55 playdates to 565 for a tenth-place take of $1.83 million. In addition, other adult holdovers remained buoyant with the lack of competition, i.e. Red (-28%), Secretariat (-28%) and The Social Network (-35%). According to Lionsgate's Joe Drake, the majors and indies released 40 % fewer films in 2009 than four years before.
The top 10 films are as follows:
1. Saw 3D (Lionsgate): $24.2 million in its first weekend at 2,808 theaters. $8,619 theater average. Domestic total: $24.2 million.
2. Paranormal Activity 2 (Paramount): $16.5 million down 59% in its second weekend at 3,239 theaters. $5,094 theater average. Domestic total: $65.7 million.
3. Red (Summit): $10.8 million down 28% in its third weekend at 3,349 theaters. $3,228 theater average. Domestic total: $58.9 million.
4. Jackass 3D (Paramount): $8.4 million down 60% in its third weekend at 3,139 theaters. $2,684 theater average. Domestic total: $101.6 million.
5. Hereafter (Warner Bros.):$6.3 million down 47% in its third weekend at 2,424 theaters. $2,607 theater average. Domestic total: $22.2 million.
6. Secretariat (Disney):$5.07 million down 28% in its fourth weekend at 3,108 theaters. $1,632 theater average. Domestic total: $44.8 million.
7. The Social Network (Sony): $4.7 million down 35% in its fifth weekend at 2,767 theaters. $1,699 theater average. Domestic total: $79.7 million.
8. Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.): $4 million down 35% in its fourth weekend at 2,860 theaters. $1,399 theater average. Domestic total: $43.5 million.
9. The Town (Warner Bros.): $1.95 million down 29% in its seventh weekend at 1,608 theaters. $1,213 theater average. Domestic total: $87.6 million.
10. Conviction (Fox Searchlight): $1.83 million up 502% in its third weekend at 565 theaters. $3,230 theater average. Domestic total: $2.4 million.