Weekend Box Office (October 21 - 23, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Scaring up as much business as the rest of the films in the top ten combined, the horror prequel Paranormal Activity 3 shattered records with its top spot debut proving that the low-budget fright franchise still has a lot of life in it. But despite the massive debut and low declines for most holdovers, the overall box office was still down compared to last year as other newcomers like the adventure film The Three Musketeers and the comedy sequel Johnny English Reborn failed to contribute much to the North American marketplace.

Paramount kept growing its found-footage-based horror series as Paranormal Activity 3 opened ahead of expectations with a staggering $52.6M, according to final studio figures, leaping 29% ahead of the $40.7M debut that its predecessor enjoyed exactly one year ago this weekend. Landing in 3,321 locations, the R-rated chiller averaged an astounding $15,829 which was a 25% improvement over last year's installment. Also going up was the production cost from $3M to $5M. While horror films tend to be low cost anyway, the Paranormal films have carried the lightest of budgets with the first pic being made for a cool $15,000.

Set in 1988 and telling the story of the sisters from the first two films when they were young girls, Activity 3 kicked off its record scare with $26.3M on Friday including $8M from Thursday night's 10pm and midnight shows. Saturday dropped 35% to $17.2M and the studio saw a hefty 47% fall on Sunday to $9.1M. Part 2 witnessed an identical Saturday decline and a smaller 42% fall on Sunday. The $52.6M weekend figure broke the records for the biggest October opening ever and the best debut for a horror film. Last year's Paramount double feature of Jackass 3D and Paranormal Activity 2 held those respective records with their bows of $50.4M and $40.7M. It can be argued that films like 2002's Signs ($60.1M) and 2001's Hannibal ($58M) were sold as scary movies, but neither was a true horror film.

The Paranormal Activity franchise has fully replaced the Saw series as the public's favorite fright brand during the Halloween season with the first two chapters reaching totals of $107.9M and $84.8M and also seizing the number one spot this very weekend each year. The first Paranormal was a sleeper hit thanks in part to one of the most brilliant marketing and distribution campaigns in recent years that allowed the fear to build over time resulting in it climbing into the top spot in its fifth frame. That forced the latest Jigsaw pic Saw VI to lose fans prompting that franchise's worst opening ($14.1M) and lowest overall gross ($27.7M). Saw 3D closed out that series last year and Paranormal Activity 3 is now in a marketplace that not only is lacking a Saw competitor for the first time, but has no other horror films whatsoever coming up allowing Paramount to have full control over the market for scary movies this Halloween.

Horror threequels are notoriously front-loaded but Activity 3 amazingly saw its opening day account for a 50% share of the whole weekend gross which was almost identical to the 49% that part 2 did despite the new installment having many more screens offer the Thursday night shows. Also notable was how the new chapter succeeded in bringing in older adults. The over-25 crowd was 47% of the audience, up from 40% for last year's installment. The studio credited the very positive reviews it received which again were astonishingly good for a horror threequel. A low C+ CinemaScore grade, however, meant many fans were underwhelmed with their experience. Activity 2 saw 48% of its total gross come from the opening weekend, however it also faced a new Saw chapter in its second weekend. With a larger opening and weaker competition, Activity 3 may become that rare fright film to top the $100M mark joining the first installment.

Paramount rolled out its new chiller into 42 overseas markets this weekend and banked an estimated $26M for a stellar worldwide debut of $79M. The three-part series has now grossed a staggering $450M worldwide in cumulative grosses while the combined production costs have amounted to a puny $8M.

Two-time box office ruler Real Steel stepped down into second place but still witnessed a very healthy hold dipping only 34% to $10.8M. The Disney release has collected a brawny $66.7M in 17 days and could be headed for a final tally in the $90-100M range. Also sliding one spot while enjoying a low decline was the dance remake Footloose which grossed $10.4M in its sophomore frame for a dip of only 34% as well. Younger skewing movies typically fade fast but the Paramount pic is generating strong buzz and giving many women a fun, non-violent form of entertainment. A $55-60M final could result.

Summit's 3D period adventure The Three Musketeers struggled in its North American launch opening to just $8.7M from 3,017 theaters for a dull $2,875 average. The PG-13 film starring an ensemble cast including Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom, and Christoph Waltz saw 55% of its gross come from higher-priced 3D screens. With the extra-dimensional format and the cast members holding much more weight around the world, international numbers have been - to no surprise - much stronger. Musketeers has taken in $64.4M overseas so far from more than 50 markets for a global tally to date of $73M. The pricey production plans to keep the run going since there have been so few high-profile action titles this fall internationally. Domestically, the swashbuckling pic earned a B CinemaScore grade and played to an audience that was 64% 25 or older and evenly split between males and females.

George Clooney's political thriller The Ides of March held up well again dipping only 32% to $4.9M for a $29.1M total for Sony. Dolphin Tale followed with $4.2M, off just 32%, giving Warner Bros. $64.4M to date. Brad Pitt's baseball pic Moneyball was once again right next to the Morgan Freeman drama and eased only 27% to $4M putting the Sony release at $63.6M overall.

The Rowan Atkinson spy sequel failed to connect with American movie fans as the comedy debuted to weak results in eighth place with $3.8M. The Universal release averaged a poor $2,470 from 1,552 locations and didn't even reach half of the opening weekend tallies for the actor's previous films Johnny English and Mr. Bean's Vacation. Reviews were lackluster. But overseas, where the star and character are much more popular, Reborn vaulted past the $100M mark thanks to an estimated $13.5M frame from 44 territories with 15 international markets still to open. The $45M-budgeted film has now collected $104.5M offshore after a month of play and $108.3M worldwide. Domestically, the PG-rated film played to an audience that was 57% male and included lots of kids and families. The CinemaScore grade was a B.

Rounding out the top ten were the horror flop The Thing which plunged 64% to $3.1M and the cancer dramedy 50/50 which took in $2.8M slipping only 33%. Totals are $14M for Universal and $28.8M for Summit.

Outside of the top ten, the inspirational softball drama The Mighty Macs struck out with audiences debuting to only $963,221 from 975 theaters for a dull $988 average. The Carla Gugino starrer was released by Quaker Media and failed to connect with moviegoers the way many other inspirational true stories have this fall.

In limited release, the smarthouse thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene enjoyed a solid debut grossing $137,651 from only two theaters a piece in New York and Los Angeles for a strong $34,413 average. The Fox Searchlight release scored very positive reviews including glowing notices for lead actress Elizabeth Olsen and will expand to ten more major markets on Friday.

Roadside Attractions enjoyed a good start for its financial thriller Margin Call which opened wider in 56 locations grossing $561,904 for a commendable $10,034 average. Reviews were encouraging and the performance was especially impressive given that it was also made available day and date on numerous cable video-on-demand systems plus other digital platforms like iTunes, Amazon, PlayStation, and YouTube.

Pedro Almodovar's latest film The Skin I Live In fared well in its second weekend expansion grossing $247,193 from 21 sites for a healthy $11,771 average. The Sony Classics release expanded from its original four playdates and has banked $555,374 so far.

The top ten films grossed $105.2M which was down 10% from last year when Paranormal Activity 2 debuted in the top spot with $40.7M; but up 4% from 2009 when Paranormal Activity climbed into the number one spot with $21.1M.

Compared to projections, Paranormal Activity 3 debuted well ahead of my $36M forecast while The Three Musketeers and Johnny English Reborn both opened below my respective predictions of $13M and $6M.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Check the UPDATED chart for the Top October Openings and watch the trailer for The Avengers.

For a review of Footloose visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Puss in Boots, In Time, and The Rum Diary all open nationwide.

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

# Title Oct 21 - 23 Oct 14 - 16 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Paranormal Activity 3 $ 52,568,183 3,321 1 $ 15,829 $ 52,568,183 Paramount
2 Real Steel 10,824,512 16,291,655 -33.6 3,412 3 3,172 66,732,152 Disney
3 Footloose 10,351,207 15,556,113 -33.5 3,555 2 2,912 30,364,238 Paramount
4 The Three Musketeers 8,674,452 3,017 1 2,875 8,674,452 Summit
5 The Ides of March 4,853,051 7,108,846 -31.7 2,042 3 2,377 29,112,377 Sony
6 Dolphin Tale 4,217,260 6,233,185 -32.3 2,858 5 1,476 64,407,935 Warner Bros.
7 Moneyball 3,981,852 5,456,730 -27.0 2,353 5 1,692 63,640,746 Sony
8 Johnny English Reborn 3,833,300 1,552 1 2,470 3,833,300 Universal
9 The Thing 3,069,875 8,493,665 -63.9 2,995 2 1,025 14,049,220 Universal
10 50/50 2,835,208 4,260,087 -33.4 1,932 4 1,467 28,820,748 Summit
11 Courageous 2,494,020 3,305,238 -24.5 1,195 4 2,087 24,975,186 Sony
12 The Big Year 1,681,040 3,251,884 -48.3 2,150 2 782 6,000,418 Fox
13 The Lion King 3D 1,254,237 2,792,403 -55.1 1,091 6 1,150 92,608,537 Disney
14 Dream House 1,132,170 2,465,220 -54.1 1,224 4 925 20,179,850 Universal
15 The Mighty Macs 963,221 975 1 988 963,221 Quaker Media
16 Contagion 853,062 1,811,190 -52.9 901 7 947 73,474,354 Warner Bros.
17 The Help 713,429 1,187,684 -39.9 776 11 919 166,190,265 Disney
18 Drive 608,534 1,116,149 -45.5 367 6 1,658 33,188,983 FilmDistrict
19 Abduction 581,021 1,427,194 -59.3 753 5 772 26,792,620 Lionsgate
20 Margin Call 561,904 56 1 10,034 561,904 Roadside Attr.
Top 5 $ 87,271,405 $ 53,683,464 62.6
Top 10 105,208,900 72,749,806 44.6
Top 20 116,051,538 83,931,637 38.3
Top 20 vs. 2010 116,051,538 124,519,050 -6.8

Last Updated: October 24, 2011 at 4:40PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.