Friday’s box office results spelled trouble for the once mighty “Saw” franchise in the form of Paramount’s upstart horror pick-up “Paranormal Activity”. Luckily for film fans, Saturday’s attendance rates could offer no quarter to the fearsome Jigsaw killer who finished outside of first place for the first time since the original “Saw” debuted back in 2004. Playing in about 1,000 fewer venues, “Paranormal” didn’t just manage to keep its lead throughout the three day frame, its solid performance also kept those “Saw VI” numbers down to about half of what the film’s predecessors averaged from 2005 to 2008.
|3||Where the Wild Things Are||$14,420,000||$53,960,000|
|4||Law Abiding Citizen||$12,713,000||$40,317,000|
A few weeks back I offered up a prayer to the movie gods concerning the future of the “Saw” franchise. It was basically the same prayer I’d been making since “Saw III” came out: “Please, please. Find a way to make them stop!”
By now you all probably know the story of “Paranormal Activity”. Guy gets a camera, shoots a horror movie for a few thousand bucks, works hard to drum up interest and eventually sells it to Paramount for $300,000. Paramount then spends $10 million on promotion -putting it in college towns at midnight – while the director leads a “demand-it” internet campaign to widen the distribution. Comparisons to “The Blair Witch Project” begin flying.
We have now entered the third act of this Cinderella story. The point at which the studio sends the film “wide” and my long-ago prayers seem to be answered. “Paranormal” pulled in $19.6 million last weekend from 760 theatres or a per screen average of over $25,000 which was more than enough to keep “Saw VI” in second place. In its first week on 1,945 screens, the horror phenomenon could not quite keep up last week’s pace, bringing in an estimated $22 million or $11,300 per screen. Still, with Halloween just around the corner, the film is on track to reach $100 million which would make “Paranormal Activity” Paramount’s best return on an investment… probably ever.
The “Paranormal” hype obviously hasn’t had a chance to reach the middle of the country, however, as audiences didn’t completely abandon “Saw VI”. The sequel nearly equaled “Paranormal”‘s activity on Friday, but by Saturday jigsaw did see a sizable decline. From 3,036 theatres, “Saw VI” managed a weak (for the franchise) estimated weekend total of $14.8 million. Again, that’s less than half of what all of the previous “Saw” sequels brought in on their debut weekends. But is it low enough to ensure that “Saw VII 3D” will be scrapped? One can hope, but as “Saw” movies are ridiculously cheap to produce (about $10-$15 million) I’m not holding my breath.
My instinct would be to end this column right here despite the fact that I haven’t said a word about the three other new releases that hit theatres on Friday. Audiences pretty much ignored them. Why shouldn’t I? But no, I’m a professional and I’m sure that there is someone out there who cares about the fate of “Amelia”… right?
Despite the fact that reviews have been pretty dreadful (17% on Rotten Tomatoes), Fox Searchlight is still hoping that the combination of Hillary Swank and director Mira Nair will make Oscars drop out of the sky for “Amelia”. The film opened Friday in 818 theatres but, so far, it looks like the only thing likely to drop is next week’s attendance rate. The biopic missed the top ten, coming in at number 11 with $4 million or $4,000 per screen.
That was still better than the $2,000 per that Relativity/Universal made from their transparent grab at “The Twilight Saga”‘s sunshine: “Cirque De Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”. The new film is also based on a popular teen series featuring vampires, so what went wrong? As far as I can tell (and I didn’t actually see the film), the vamps in “Assistant” don’t use nearly enough hair product and they don’t even sparkle! Relativity spent a reported $40 million bringing this movie to the screen and, based on that cumbersome title, they clearly had visions of franchise dancing in their heads. Good luck with that after opening to eighth place with only $6.3 million.
Our last new release, “Astro Boy”, fared a bit better than “The Vampire’s Assistant” in more ways than one. Both films had a disappointing opening day on Friday, but “Astro Boy” managed to get a little boost from those Saturday family crowds. So too, did last week’s chart-topping “Where the Wild Things Are” which turned a nearly 65% drop on Friday into a more acceptable 55% decline by Sunday. “Astro Boy” also has better reviews going for it and a better shot at international dough thanks to worldwide geek-love for Osamu Tezuka’s original manga/anime series. Here at home, “Astro Boy” earned an estimated $7 million off its reported $65 million budget, but I think this one will have good legs on cable and such.
Next week is Halloween which means that “Paranormal Activity” could have counted on another first place finish if not for two potential stumbling blocks: this year’s holiday falls on a Saturday which could drive attendance down a bit. And then there’s that odd little concert flick that Sony picked up at auction awhile back. You know the one I mean? “This Absolutely Is Not It“, I believe it’s called? That’s launching in theatres and IMAX on Wednesday. I always felt that Sony over-estimated the return they could get on the Jackson concert film, but there is little doubt that the curiosity-factor is going to give the movie big business in its first five days. I’ll be back on the 29th to sort out all the opening day drama.