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'Paranormal' continues to impress as the overall box office loses its mojo

October 25, 2009 |  1:09 pm

Paranormal Four movies with combined production budgets of more than $100 million opened this weekend, but none of them managed to beat a movie that cost $15,000.

Paramount's "Paranormal Activity" expanded from 863 theaters to 1,945 this weekend and sold a studio-estimated $22 million, making it No. 1 for the first time since it opened more than four weeks ago. The horror flick, which was produced for $15,000 and Paramount acquired for $300,000, has grossed an astounding total of $62.5 million.

Paramount plans to add as many as 500 locations Friday. In theaters where it played last weekend, "Paranormal Activity" was down a mild 33%. If current trends continue, the movie will almost certainly end up collecting more than $100 million.

Perhaps more impressive, it vanquished one of Hollywood's most successful horror series. "Saw VI" opened to a disappointing $14.8 million, obviously damaged in large part by "Paranormal." That's the lowest debut for any film in the annual series, even the original in 2004, which started with $18.3 million. All the other "Saw" films have debuted to more than $30 million.

The movie was better received by horror fans than "Saw V," however. Last year's poorly regarded entry got an average grade of C from moviegoers, according to market research firm CinemaScore, but the new movie got a B. Although "Saw VI" will almost certainly end up as the lowest-grossing entry in the series, Lionsgate is hopeful that it will benefit from solid word of mouth, particularly among horror fans who chose "Paranormal" this weekend.

The good news for Lionsgate is that "Saw VI" cost a modest $11 million to produce, meaning it shouldn't be a big money loser and could even eke out a profit.

The same can't be said for the weekend's other new movies, all of which cost more and opened far worse.

"Astro Boy," which animation studio Imagi Entertainment produced at a cost of $65 million, opened to a dismal $7 million. Summit Entertainment distributed the movie, which drew a very modest family crowd and will be a tough blow for Hong Kong-based Imagi, which was financing its own movie for the first time.

The news was equally bad for lead financier Ted Waitt, co-founder of computer company Gateway Inc., and Fox Searchlight: Their "Amelia" opened to a very weak $4 million. The movie cost $40 million and received largely negative reviews, which probably turned off its target adult audience.

Cirque "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" was aimed at tween girls and boys, but didn't do much better, opening to just $6.3 million. Universal Pictures and Relativity Media split the $40-million production budget.

There was some good news among holdovers. "Law Abiding Citizen" fell only 40% on its second weekend, and "Couples Retreat" continues to play well, dropping only 36% on its third weekend. But "Where the Wild Things Are" played more like a big-budget event film and less like a family movie with good buzz on its second weekend, dropping a sizable 56%.

Total box-office receipts fell more than 9% this weekend, according to Hollywood.com. They will probably be soft next weekend as well, because Halloween is on a Saturday and the only new movie will be the Michael Jackson flick "This Is It," which debuts Tuesday night.

Overseas, Fox opened "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" in author Roald Dahl's native land of Britain to a disappointing $2.5 million.

In limited release, IFC opened the new Lars von Trier film "Antichrist" to a decent $70,000 at six locations.

The well-reviewed "An Education" continues to play well as Sony Pictures Classics expanded it to 31 theaters. It grossed a solid $408,002, bringing its total to almost $1 million.

Here are the top 10 films at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1. "Paranormal Activity" (Paramount): $22 million on its fifth weekend, bringing its total to $62.5 million.

2. "Saw VI" (Lionsgate): Opened to $14.8 million.

3. "Where the Wild Things Are" (Warner Bros./Village Roadshow/Legendary): Dropped 56% on its second weekend to $14.4 million. Total U.S. and Canadian ticket sales: $54 million.

4. "Law Abiding Citizen" (Overture/Film Department): Declined 40% to $12.7 million on its second weekend. Domestic total: $40.3 million.

5. "Couples Retreat" (Universal/Relativity): Down a modest 36% on its third weekend to $11.1 million, bringing cumulative domestic ticket sales to $78.2 million. Overseas it has grossed $17.2 million in seven countries.

6. "Astro Boy" (Summit/Imagi): Debuted to $7 million.

7. "The Stepfather" (Sony Screen Gems): Fell 44% on its second weekend to $6.5 million. Domestic total: $20.4 million.

8. "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" (Universal/Relativity): Launched to $6.3 million.

9. "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" (Sony): $5.6 million, down 30% on its sixth weekend, bringing its total ticket sales to $115.2 million.

10. "Zombieland" (Sony/Relativity): Declined 44% to $4.3 million. Domestic total: $67.3 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat in "Paranormal Activity." Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Bottom photo: John C. Reilly and Chris Massoglia in "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures.

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