The Movie: 'Paranormal Activity 2,' directed by first-time genre filmmaker Tod Williams ('The Adventures of Sebastian Cole,' 'The Door in the Floor') and literally starring a cast of unknowns: not only are the actors not famous, but Paramount has done their best to keep us from learning their names. It is a sequel to Oren Peli's sleeper indie hit 'Paranormal Activity,' which cost $15,000 and grossed $108 million domestically last fall.
The Target Audience: Horror fans of all stripes, including those who can't or won't stomach the heavier, gorier fare that's become the rage over the past few years. Teens. People on dates.
The Competition: Very little. The only other new release was 'Hereafter', which expanded on Friday from a limited release on Wednesday, and went after a rather different demographic. 'Paranormal''s most direct competition was probably'Jackass 3D,' which took its expected hefty tumble in its second week of release (but still got to $21 million for the weekend and almost $90 million total). All the weekend numbers can be found in this week's Box Office Report.
The Number: an estimated $41.5 million on around 3,200 screens. It's hard to compare to the film's predecessor, which rolled into theaters gradually as it built momentum, but there may be no point: this is the highest ever 3-day opening weekend for an R-rated horror film, at least if the real number is not significantly lower than the estimate (the current record holder, 'Friday the 13th,' is less than $1 million off). It was also extremely front-loaded, making almost half of its weekend gross on Friday (including midnight showings, which took in over $6 million).
What's happened here, I think, is Paramount creating and capitalizing on the perception that this is a horror franchise that is seriously fun -- not nasty or tough or gory, but fun. Oh sure, the advertising called the sequel and its predecessor the scariest movies ever, etc., but it seemed clear that this meant scary in an "Alien Encounter"-at-Disneyworld way rather than in the manner of 'Hostel' or even something like 'The Last Exorcism'. It's a theme park ride; a very specific sort of attraction. The high midnight numbers bear this out. So does the movie itself, which is a single-minded, extremely effective execution of the original film's simple formula.
Staying Power: Hard to say. Horror films that open big tend not to fare well in subsequent weekends, and the same can be said for movies that make so much of their opening weekend money on Thursday night and Friday. On the other hand, the first film was remarkably resilient as word-of-mouth built. I'm guessing the sequel will end up somewhere in the middle. With a $3 million budget, that'll be more than good enough.
Did you enjoy the ride?