box office paranormal activityParamount

For a long time, the "Paranormal Activity" franchise has seemed as unstoppable at the box office as those malevolent spirits that keep dragging those poor folks around in front of conveniently placed camcorders. Indeed, some pundits expected the newest installment, this weekend's "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," to earn as much as $24 million and open at No. 1 on the box office chart.

Instead, the film opened at the low end of the range of predictions, with an estimated $18.2 million and settling for second place, behind Disney's seven-week-old "Frozen," which earned an estimated $20.7 million at the box office and achieved the rare feat of returning to the top spot a month after having vacated it.

This isn't the first sign of trouble for the horror franchise. While the initial "Paranormal Activity" slowly built momentum as it expanded across the country, all the sequels since have enjoyed instant nationwide releases. "Paranormal Activity 2" opened north of $40 million, and "Paranormal Activity 3" debuted above $50 million. But 2012's "Paranormal Activity 4" opened at just $29 million, and then, in 2013, for the first time in five years, October came and went with no new "PA" movie. So when this one limps into theaters with $18.2 million, it's worth asking if the ghostly series still has much life left in it.

Not that distributor Paramount has much to complain about; like previous "PA" movies, this one barely cost a thing to make (a reported $5 million), so even with marketing costs, it's probably already profitable after just three days. Still, one wonders what the performance of "The Marked Ones" bodes for the future of the franchise. Here are some elements to consider:

The Market: Having noticed that Latino audiences make up a large part of the "PA" fanbase (and of supernatural and occult horror viewers in general), the filmmakers made "The Marked Ones" with that audience in mind, casting mostly Latino actors and bringing some of the usually claustrophobic action out into the city streets. Did the experiment pay off? Hard to say, but the rest of Hollywood, which was taken by surprise by last year's Latino-targeted hit comedy "Instructions Not Included," is surely watching with great interest. If "Marked Ones" is perceived as an underperformer, it may be all too easy for the rest of Hollywood to shrug and say that it's too hard to reach the Latino audience, so why try? On the other hand, if "Marked Ones" is seen as a profitable, low-budget/high-return success, will the Latino casting get the credit, or will success be attributed to being part of a well-established franchise?

Timing: Aside from Halloween and late summer, the beginning of January has proved in recent years to be a prime season for horror films. A year ago this weekend saw "Texas Chainsaw 3D" open with $22 million, while two years ago, "The Devil Inside" (which, unlike "The Marked Ones" and "Chainsaw 3D," didn't belong to a well-known franchise), opened at $33 million. But then, all the more reason why "The Marked Ones" should have done better, especially since it was the only wide-release movie opening this weekend.

Hercules: No, not next weekend's action spectacle (though that could take a bite out of second-week profits for "The Marked Ones"), but this weekend's blizzard, which probably kept a lot of Northeasterners and Midwesterners from going to the movies. Still, bad January weather hasn't stopped other horror movies from becoming bigger hits.

Spinoff: "The Marked Ones" isn't a proper sequel to the first four "PA" movies; rather, it's a spinoff with a mostly new cast of characters. For die-hard fans that unfamiliarity, and the fact that it doesn't really advance the series' main narrative, might have been reasons to skip the movie and wait for "Paranormal Activity 5" in October 2014. Then again, it should have been a draw to people who haven't seen the earlier films and might feel like it's too late to catch up.

Nothing's Wrong: This is surely the position Paramount will take. After all, some sequel fatigue in audiences is inevitable after four or five movies, and this film is still going to be hugely profitable, just like the others. As with the previous item, the true test will come this October with "Paranormal Activity 5." If the franchise suddenly becomes unprofitable, then the doomsayers may feel free to shriek and moan. Otherwise, expect "Paranormal Activity" movies to keep haunting the multiplex once or even twice a year for some time to come.
CATEGORIES Box Office