A combination of targeted marketing, lucky timing and the hands-on involvement of one of the biggest producers in Hollywood turned “The Devil Inside” from a super-low-budget orphan into the No. 1 movie in America.
Its reign, however, is almost certain to be short-lived: horror movies seldom stand up well week-to-week, and “The Devil Inside” has generated horrible reviews from critics and an almost unheard-of “F” from the audience polling firm Cinemascore.
“The Devil Inside” is a movie that came – seemingly – out of nowhere, surged beyond nearly all box office predictions and then saw its numbers tumble. It grossed an astonishing $16.8 million in its first day – $2 million of that in midnight showings.
But viewers quickly soured on the R-rated movie.
By Sunday, miserable reviews and derisive tweets caught up with it. On its third day of release, “Devil’s” receipts had fallen by 56 percent over the previous day – down to $5.2 million Sunday from $11.8 million on Saturday.
Outside box-office watchers expect that next weekend, it will drop by 80 to 85 percent.
“Word of mouth on this thing is toxic,” Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com, told TheWrap. “There’s really no other way to describe it.”
But its opening days were heady.
“(Paramount Film Group President) Adam Goodman and his marketing team did an amazing job of making sure everyone in America knew about this movie, and they did everything perfectly in terms of marketing the movie,” Roy Lee, who is producing “The Vatican” – directed by the team behind “Devil” – told TheWrap Monday.
Marketing started in October, when Paramount placed “Devil’s” extra-creepy trailer in front of “Paranormal Activity 3.”
The trailer sparked Twitter and Facebook chatter, which Paramount exploited.
“Once the conversations were started, Paramount egged them on,” Contrino said. Boxoffice.com was among the few outlets that predicted “The Devil Inside” would exceed $23 million in its opening weekend.
(TheWrap also predicted that “The Devil Inside” would challenge “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” for box office supremacy over the weekend.)
“The trailer was really popular,” Contino said.
On top of that, Paramount kicked off television ads during AMC’s “The Walking Dead” finale on Nov. 27. And it launched an iPad and iPhone application that gave moviegoers a way to test how “possessed” they were – and gave viewers a scare from the movie.
The studio advertised in both English and Spanish – horror films do particularly well among Latino viewers – and advertised on radio in the top 12 Hispanic markets.
It targeted advertising on Syfy, Chiller, AMC’s “Fear Friday” and IFC’s “Fright Night,” and on high-profile finales including “Terra Nova” and “American Horror Story.”
It also created a red band trailer and 10-second radio ads to counter-program Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
That all attracted the young audience Paramount was looking for. The movie's audience was 59 percent younger than 25 — and 85 percent was 34 and younger.
“We did anything you can think of that isn’t just writing a check for a TV spot,” Don Harris, Paramount’s distribution chief, told TheWrap.
Harris also said the movie had the benefit of good timing: “The Devil Inside” was the only major movie to open on Jan. 6, which reduced the competition somewhat.
Initially, he said, another studio had planned a Jan. 6 release. When the studio pulled that picture, Harris jumped at it.
And there hasn’t been much for horror fans since “Paranormal Activity.”
There is a “Paranormal” connection.
Steven Schneider, who produced “Paranormal 3” and “Insidious,” was an executive producer of “Devil,” and is, in a way, responsible for Paramount picking it up.
Schneider saw the movie and liked it enough that he brought it to Lorenzo di Bonaventura, the producer of such moneymakers as “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe” and “Salt.”
Di Bonaventura agreed that the movie had potential. He took the project on, suggested specific cuts and was in the editing room during the work.
Paramount bought the movie, which cost less than $1 million to make, for $1 million.
And, TheWrap has learned, the studio changed the ending.
Thirty-three million dollars later, director/writer William Brent Bell and writer/producer Matthew Peterman are the big winners.
Roy Lee, the co-producer of “How to Train Your Dragon” and executive producer of “The Departed,” among other movies, is producing their “The Vatican” for Warner Bros.
And they have – even for a few days – the top movie in the country.
“Devil” “definitely established them as creators in the genre space,” Lee said. “They definitely struck a chord with something that the audience really responded to."