Despite overwhelmingly negative reviews, audiences came out in force to see Vince Vaughn, Kristin Bell and Jon Favreau frolic on the beach in “Couples Retreat” this weekend. The PG-13 comedy bested Universal’s highest hopes by bringing in over $35 million in its first three days. But despite all that cash, “Couples Retreat” is not this weekend’s big box office story. That honor goes to the independent horror movie “Paranormal Activity” – the spiritual beneficiary of the shaky hand-cam and savvy marketing plan that “Blair Witch” built.
|3||Cloudy w/a Chance||$12,000,000||$96,251,000|
|4||Toy Story 1 & 2 3D||$7,674,000||$22,676,000|
|7||Invention of Lying||$3,370,000||$12,327,000|
|9||Capitalism: A Love Story||$2,700,000||$9,095,000|
For the first time in weeks there was only one wide release out in theatres: Universal’s “Couples Retreat”. The film’s lack of competition is the first thing to point to when dissecting how a movie with a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes got to over $35 million on opening weekend… $10 million more than last weekend’s widely-embraced “Zombieland”. So yes, the fact that “Couples” had the multiplex basically to itself helped the film top the $25 million Universal execs were hoping for, but there are more factors at play here.
First, America loves Vince Vaughn. They love Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau together even more. Think back to last November when the two friends helped “Four Christmases” take in $46 million in its first five days. Few saw that coming. Which brings me to the second factor in play: audiences in 2009 have been starved for comedy. Try to recall the last adult-oriented comedy that didn’t end up tanking. Romantic hybrids aside, you’d have to go all the way back to “The Hangover” in June for an example of a comedy with wide demographic appeal that performed above expectations. Now, “Couples Retreat” won’t have anything like the legs of “Hangover” or even of “Four Christmases” (I’d expect a drop-off of about 55% by next week) but it won’t really need it. Universal can already count this as a win.
Still, it’s a pretty moderate win when compared to the weekend’s big story. That continues to be the 2007 indie horror film from first-time director Oren Peli. Paramount picked up the insanely low-budgeted feature with plans to remake it studio-style. After that plan was scrapped Peli cajoled online fans to “demand” that the studio release the film in their town. Success with midnight-only screenings begun on September 29th in 13 college towns, lead to this week’s expansion into 159 venues – the kind of grass-roots platform release the likes of which has not been seen since (you know where I’m going with this) 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project”.
After “Paranormal Activity” brought in a staggering $7 million from those 159 theatres – a per-screen average of over $44,000 – you can expect Paramount to go keep expanding the film right up until Halloween. This means that we may have finally found the movie that can put a stake through the heart of the “Saw” franchise. Happy day!
When “Saw V” was released last October I lamented that, thanks to an opening weekend above $30 million, Lionsgate had no incentive to stop cranking out their signature horror pics. With another year now gone and a new “Saw” movie on the horizon, “Paranormal Activity” finally provides a glimmer of hope that the Jigsaw Killer can be thwarted. We could debate the actual merits of “Paranormal Activity” all day but the fact is that, at the moment, the movie is a true phenomenon – one which most Americans have only recently learned of. Cross your fingers that the buzz on this one will last just long enough to ensure that “Saw VII” never makes it to opening weekend.
Next week the box office will get back to hosting multiple releases, including the long-awaited debut of Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are”. Gerard Butler will also be back in theatres with “Law Abiding Citizen” – his take on “Taken”. Butler has never been able to exploit all that box office capital he built up after starring in “300”. Unless you want to call “The Ugly Truth” a hit. And, if so, you should probably keep that to yourself.