Weekend Box Office (October 16 - 18, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers poured into multiplexes to see a wide range of appealing films powering the box office to the biggest October weekend in history. Leading the way was the new adventure pic Where the Wild Things Are which bowed at number one followed by an exceptionally strong debut for the action entry Law Abiding Citizen in second. The most impressive performance came in third with the national expansion of the indie thriller Paranormal Activity which delivered the best average of any film. The four new wide releases kicked in a stunning $85M powering the Top 20 to $133M, a new record high for the month.

Audiences rushed out to see Where the Wild Things Are making the adaptation of the popular kids book the top film with $32.7M in ticket sales, according to final studio figures. Averaging a ferocious $8,754 from 3,735 theaters, the PG-rated pic scored the eighth biggest October opening ever and the third highest for a kidpic during the month trailing only Shark Tale ($47.6M in 2004) and High School Musical 3 ($42M in 2008). It was also the second widest launch during the month after Shark Tale's bow in 4,016 locations.

While the opening weekend was undoubtedly powerful, the long-term outlook is not as clear. Friday began with a potent $12.1M debut but Saturday inched up only 2% to $12.3M. Family-oriented films during the school year typically see large Saturday jumps in sales thanks to the target audience being more available. In recent weeks, Friday-to-Saturday increases on opening weekend for kidpics Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the Toy Story double feature were 62% and 69%, respectively. Wild Things seems to be playing more to an adult audience appealing to those who read the book as a kid and to hipsters who enjoy director Spike Jonze's unique style of filmmaking.

Jonze took a nine-sentence book, stretched it into a 100-minute movie, and added plenty of new material including names and backstories for all the Wild Things and a deeper look into the home life of the nine-year-old boy at the center of the story. Reviews have been mixed with critics having a wide range of feelings for the film. Warner Bros. invested heavily into the marketing of Wild Things hoping to appeal to the broadest possible audience since the movie is not the typical family film that Hollywood churns out. The $75M production unspooled in 145 IMAX locations which accounted for $3.1M, or nearly 10% of the weekend tally.

Liam Neeson isn't the only actor from across the pond to hit it big with a revenge thriller this year. Gerard Butler enjoyed a surprisingly potent bow for the action drama Law Abiding Citizen, also starring Jamie Foxx, which grossed $21M from 2,890 theaters for a stellar $7,280 average. The R-rated story of a man that plots a series of assassinations from jail to get back at those responsible for the killings of his wife and daughter played to a broad audience with males slightly outnumbering females. Neeson's kidnapping thriller Taken was an unlikely blockbuster last winter when it bowed to $24.7M and a $7,765 average over Super Bowl weekend on its way to a $145M final.

Butler and Foxx are certainly no guarantees at the box office. The former's action pic Gamer opened to just $9.2M last month while the latter's The Soloist debuted to a weak $9.7M in April. But the actor combo, the appealing storyline, and an aggressive marketing push helped to make it the biggest opening ever in Overture's short history easily beating the $16.3M of last fall's cop drama Righteous Kill with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Citizen should have no problem beating Kill's $40.1M total to become the distributor's top grosser too.

Paramount expanded its micro-budgeted horror hit Paranormal Activity nationwide this weekend following three weeks of limited play and saw sales nearly triple to $19.6M. Freaking out moviegoers in 760 theaters, up from 160 last weekend, the R-rated spookfest averaged a sensational $25,813 per location nearly matching the $26,528 average of The Blair Witch Project when it went nationwide during the summer of 1999. That indie overachiever shot up to number two on the charts in its third weekend when it expanded from 31 to 1,101 theaters grossing $29.2M.

In its first day of wide release on Friday, Paranormal took in $6.8M, then rose 14% to $7.7M on Saturday. The studio originally projected a slim 25% dip on Sunday but that day ended up falling by 34% to $5.1M. The total now stands at $33.2M with another expansion set for this Friday as it goes head-to-head with the opening of the latest installment of the horror industry's top franchise Saw VI which attacks 3,000 theaters. Still, with the much-talked-about ghost story continuing to add theaters, and Halloween two weeks away, Paranormal Activity has the potential to finish with at least $75M.

Continuing to use out-of-the-box marketing tactics to generate excitement (and sales), the studio has launched a contest that will reward the first ten theaters that sell out their midnight shows this Thursday night with a special party. This promotion is just the latest technique that keeps fans involved with the film's release as it further infiltrates pop culture. To date, the marketing and distribution campaign has been executed with military precision.

Last weekend's top choice Couples Retreat suffered a rocky second outing dropping 50% to $17.2M despite not having any new comedies enter the marketplace. With a solid $62.6M taken in over ten days, Universal should find its way to a final domestic tally of $100-110M making it only the second film of the year to join the century club for the troubled studio. Fast & Furious grossed $155.1M last spring. Vince Vaughn's 2006 Universal relationship trouble flick The Break-Up, which like Retreat he also produced, witnessed a similar 48% plunge in its sophomore frame.

Sony's latest horror film The Stepfather had a lukewarm $11.6M debut in fifth place. The PG-13 thriller averaged a mild $4,236 from 2,734 locations and skewed towards young women. Studio research showed that 54% of the audience was female and 55% was under 21 for the $19M production. Sony usually does better with its mid-October fright films. Last year, Quarantine bowed to $14.2M, 30 Days of Night debuted to $16M in 2007, and The Grudge 2 opened to $20.8M in 2006. The added competition from Paranormal Activity made an impact.

The animated comedy Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs broke the $100M mark on Thursday in its 28th day of release and added $8M to its total over the weekend. That gave the Sony hit a slender 30% decline and a new total of $108.2M which is remarkable for a fall pic. Meatballs is only the fourth September release of this entire decade to cross the century mark joining Remember the Titans ($115.6M in 2000), Sweet Home Alabama ($127.2M in 2002), and Eagle Eye ($101.4M in 2008).

The studio claimed the next spot too with the horror-comedy Zombieland with $7.6M, down 49%, resulting in a cume of $60.6M. Disney extended the limited run of its double feature Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) beyond its planned two-week period and grossed $3M in its third round. Tumbling 61%, the dynamic duo raised the sum to $28.6M in 17 days.

Rounding out the top ten were Buena Vista's Surrogates and the Warner Bros. pic The Invention of Lying with $1.9M each. The Bruce Willis actioner dropped 55% and has grossed $36.3M to date while the Ricky Gervais comedy fell 43% lifting the cume to $15.5M.

The top ten films grossed $124.6M which was up a stunning 56% from last year when Max Payne opened in the top spot with $17.6M; and up a staggering 72% from 2007 when 30 Days of Night debuted at number one with $16M.

Compared to projections, Where the Wild Things Are opened very close to my $31M forecast while Law Abiding Citizen powered well ahead of my $9M prediction. Paranormal Activity and The Stepfather were both very close to my respective projections of $18M and $11M.

Check the UPDATED chart of the top October openings. Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

For a review of Where the Wild Things Are visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Saw VI, Amelia, The Vampire's Assistant, and Astro Boy all open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Oct 16 - 18 Oct 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Where the Wild Things Are $ 32,695,407 3,735 1 $ 8,754 $ 32,695,407 Warner Bros.
2 Law Abiding Citizen 21,039,510 2,890 1 7,280 21,039,510 Overture
3 Paranormal Activity 19,617,650 7,900,695 148.3 760 4 25,813 33,171,743 Paramount
4 Couples Retreat 17,227,390 34,286,740 -49.8 3,009 2 5,725 62,617,735 Universal
5 The Stepfather 11,581,586 2,734 1 4,236 11,581,586 Sony
6 Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 8,017,871 11,527,480 -30.4 3,037 5 2,640 108,201,645 Sony
7 Zombieland 7,616,939 14,802,431 -48.5 3,171 3 2,402 60,640,317 Sony
8 Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) 3,016,580 7,766,643 -61.2 1,489 3 2,026 28,554,678 Buena Vista
9 Surrogates 1,917,315 4,268,314 -55.1 2,326 4 824 36,327,650 Buena Vista
10 The Invention of Lying 1,907,398 3,339,263 -42.9 1,624 3 1,175 15,497,164 Warner Bros.
11 Whip It 1,507,379 2,827,512 -46.7 1,482 3 1,017 11,360,796 Fox Searchlight
12 Capitalism: A Love Story 1,455,510 2,630,292 -44.7 993 4 1,466 11,622,433 Overture
13 The Informant! 955,456 2,204,286 -56.7 1,228 5 778 31,766,896 Warner Bros.
14 Fame 903,890 2,543,067 -64.5 1,555 4 581 21,795,849 MGM
15 A Serious Man 842,511 459,318 83.4 82 3 10,275 1,843,307 Focus
16 I Can Do Bad All By Myself 557,799 1,511,904 -63.1 807 6 691 51,383,324 Lionsgate
17 Love Happens 547,765 1,467,030 -62.7 1,043 5 525 22,416,260 Universal
18 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra 407,537 687,865 -40.8 514 11 793 149,645,921 Paramount
19 Good Hair 398,492 1,043,732 -61.8 179 2 2,226 1,727,486 Roadside Attr.
20 Bright Star 396,479 624,834 -36.5 295 5 1,344 3,534,192 Apparition
Top 5 $ 102,161,543 $ 76,283,989 33.9
Top 10 124,637,646 91,892,437 35.6
Top 20 132,610,464 102,592,595 29.3
Top 20 vs. 2008 132,610,464 95,411,059 39.0

Last Updated: October 19, 2009 at 5:00PM ET