"Paranormal Activity 3" scared some life back into the box office this weekend, raking in a surprisingly strong $54 million. It was the only film in new release to lure in moviegoers in droves, as both a 3-D version of "The Three Musketeers" and Rowan Atkinson's "Johnny English Reborn" flopped stateside.
On Friday, Milla Jovovich -- who stars in "Musketeers," which was directed by her husband, Paul W.S. Anderson — caused a stir when she took to her Twitter account to slam distributor Summit Entertainment. What did the actress' controversial remarks entail?
Check out this week's box-office video report for the details.
It was also the highest total for any October opening in history and a number that -- heavens to Betsy -- equaled the amounts for all the other films in the box-office top 10 ... combined. "Paranormal's" ticket receipts this weekend put it on pace to easily top the $85-million cumulative total of the second movie and almost certainly the $107-million total of the first film as well. Many sequels lose steam by their third go-round. But Americans (and plenty of other people around the world) are seemingly more eager than ever to plunk down money to watch Katie get haunted, spooked and tormented.
Of course, this weekend only tells a small piece of the story. The larger play for "Paranormal" producers and studio Paramount Pictures lies with morphing the brand from a one-off, out-of-nowhere discovery two years ago into a long-running, durable franchise that serves as the holy grail for any movie studio. (Although there's no official word of a fourth movie, you can bet your last VHS tape there'll be one.)
The gold standard for this is "Saw," which for seven straight Octobers beginning in 2004 was one of the most popular of modern movie franchises. It was a triumph of the slow-but-steady variety -- no film grossed more than $90 million, but, save for the sixth one, took in at least $45 million each time out, a solid feat in an era when big franchises often fly too close to the sun and burn up.
Certainly "Paranormal" would seem well-positioned to carry on the "Saw" mantle: It has the brand name, the fan base and, now that "Saw" as wound down its run, the Halloween period to itself. Already the series is on track to take in a good deal more than the first three "Saw" movies.
But there are also some big distinctions between the showy splatter of Jigsaw and his victims and the haunted-house creeps of Katie and her family. Perhaps the biggest one is that "Paranormal" relies on the novelty of a format -- found footage -- and novel formats tend to wear out their welcome pretty quickly, especially as the knockoffs start to fly.
So goes the thinking at rival 20th Century Fox, which is set to make its own entrance into the low-budget genre-movie game with a film called "Chronicle."
Directed by the newcomer Josh Trank and written by emerging screenwriter Max Landis (Shawn Levy's in-development "Frankenstein," and son of John Landis), the February release centers on a trio of prankster teenagers who discover they have superhuman powers. It's "Kick-Ass" meets 'Jackass."
The newly released trailer is below, and while this sort of shaky-cam, found-footage-y storytelling can be a mixed bag, there's certainly plenty here to intrigue. For starters, the superpowers are, refreshingly, used not for some kind of global domination but for seemingly ordinary teenage pranks — and then, as the stakes rise, for something more dangerous (but still human).
The movie — budgeted at about $15 million, according to a person familiar with the project — no doubt hopes to follow in the footsteps of another low-budget genre film released in winter, "Cloverfield," in addition to the Halloween-pegged "Paranormal."
As it happens, the movie has another "Paranormal" connection — Trank was discovered when he directed additional scenes for "Paranormal 2" that were used in the marketing of that film. Fox no doubt hopes less is more on "Chronicle." Films fans do too.
Combining the low-budget, found-footage styling of 1999's "The Blair Witch Project" with the franchising aspect of the uber-violent "Saw" films, the "Paranormal Activity" series unleashes its third film Friday, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, known for the 2010 documentary-with-an-asterisk "Catfish." The critical consensus on "Paranormal Activity 3" says the film adheres to a now-familiar formula but still manages to deliver scares and entertainment.
In a review for The Times, Mark Olsen says "Paranormal Activity 3" is "far and away the sharpest, most wildly aware film in the series." Throughout the film, Olsen writes, "there is a newfound wit and invention. The blocking used to get characters (and scares) in and out of shots feels lively and fun, making the jolts hit harder and the thrills giddier." He adds, "All of this proves that Joost and Schulman are real filmmakers and not just stunt artists, more convincing at making a plainly fictional film that purports to be reality than a documentary of shaky authenticity."
It's an interesting weekend at the movies. A found-footage horror film, "Paranormal Activity 3," tries to solidify its status as a stalwart Hollywood franchise. Meanwhile, a drama about the financial crisis, the Zachary Quinto-Kevin Spacey film "Margin Call," tells of a night in which Wall Street traders see their world collapsing around them.
How will filmgoers respond to a story that seems tailor-made for this Occupy Wall Street moment? The Times' Nicole Sperling and Steven Zeitchik offer their breakdown of the week in Hollywood.
Buoyed by strong reviews and positive word of mouth, “Paranormal Activity 3” opened to strong business midnight Thursday, grossing $8 million. Those returns are about 30% better than the first “Paranormal” sequel, which grossed $6.3 million in its midnight shows in about 400 fewer locations.
Box office prognosticators say “Paranormal 3,” which focuses on the plight of two small girls in the late 1980s, could beat last year’s debut of “Paranormal Activity 2,” which sold $40.7 million in tickets in its first weekend. Some estimates are that the new, $5-million sequel could gross as much as $45 million this weekend.
Distributor Paramount Pictures also said the third film’s opening day receipts in France were 13% better than “Paranormal Activity 2,” while Russian sales were 45% higher and Australian sales were 14% higher.
"Paranormal Activity 3" has the best reviews of any film in the franchise, but what's more likely to drive the horror sequel's robust box office this weekend is the movie's word of mouth. Since introducing the first "Paranormal" movie two years ago, Paramount Pictures has used social media, and in particular with the third film, Twitter, to spread audience recommendations.
Fans in 20 cities were treated to sneak previews of the film Tuesday night, with the winning cities selected by how many "Paranormal" Twitter votes each metropolis was able to record — which brought the sequel to far-flung places such as Mexico City and London but also theaters in Fresno and Los Angeles.
Film writer John Horn discusses Paramount's fan-centric marketing strategy in this week's Word of Mouth column and this video: