Updated Saturday, 8:27 a.m.
"Paranormal Activity 3" is proving that audiences still love a good scare. Paramount estimates that the third installment of its creepy franchise grossed an estimated $26.2 million in North America on Friday — $8 million in midnight showings alone.
Those strong numbers put it on track to beat expectations by pulling in more than $50 million in its opening weekend, according to rival-studio estimates.
Pre-release expectations were for something just north of $40 million.
"Paranormal's" $8 million in midnight sales is a franchise record — 30 percent higher than the $6.3 million "Paranormal Activity 2" took in at midnight shows in its opening weekend last year.
The weekend's other debuts aren't faring so well: Estimates have "The Three Musketeers" grossing just short of $3 million on Friday. If trends continue, the film will be in fourth place for the weekend, behind "Paranormal" and carryovers "Real Steel" and "Footloose." Estimates don't have "Musketeers" cracking double-digits for the weekend.
Universal's "Johnny English Reborn" managed only about $1.3 million on Friday and is set to take in around $4.2 million for the weekend.
If it's late October, the weekend box office now belongs to “Paranormal Activity.”
One of the most reliably profitable franchises in the industry is set to creep out audiences in more than 3,300 locations in its debut weekend
Paramount figures "Paranormal Activity" will gross somewhere in the mid-$30 million range. Outside estimates predict it’ll gross up to $42 million.
Also read: Review: Too-Familiar Things Go Bump in the Night in 'Paranormal Activity 3'
Either way, it’s a remarkable number for a movie with a budget of $5 million — a mint compared to the first two "Paranormal" installments, which came with ridulously low price tags of $15,000 and $3 million
The weekend’s other new wide releases — “Johnny English,” the 3D “The Three Musketeers” and “The Mighty Macs” – look to be a mixed box office bag.
Also read: 'Paranormal' Now the Most Profitable Film Ever
Limited openings include Kevin Spacey film “Margin Call,” which will debut in 50 theaters, and Fox Searchlight's Sundance hit "Martha Marcy May Marlene, which will start out in four locations.
Also read: Review: 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' the Chilling Feel-Bad Movie of the Year
But as it has for the past two pre-Halloween weekends, the "Paranormal" franchise will own the box office.
In case you somehow missed it, Israeli filmmaker Oren Peli — and studio champion Adam Goodman, now president of the Paramount Film Group — caused an industry-wide sensation with the first "Paranormal Activity" in 2009. The home-spun horror film built an audience on a quirky viral campaign through the early part of the fall before going wide to an incredible $19.6 million. (Said one Paramount executive that weekend: "I just bought a boat!"
Ultimately, "Paranormal 1" grossed nearly $194 million worldwide on a $15,000 budget. The 2010 “Paranormal Activity 2” didn't let anybody down, either, opening to $40.6 million and grossing $177.5 million worldwide on a $3 million budget.
As for the latest installment, critics like it — "Paranormal 3" is registering a 78 percent fresh mark on reviews aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes as of late-day Thursday.
Christopher Landon, the “Disturbia” screenwriter, wrote this installment, and turned it into something like a period piece. It’s set in 1988, when two young sisters, Katie and Kristi, befriend an invisible entity living in their house. The documentary maker Henry Joost directed.
Its domestic tracking is especially strong among men and women in their 20s and among older teens.
According to research firm NRG, 92 percent of males under the age of 25 know that "Paranormal 3" will be in theaters — a pretty big number. An equally impressive 51 percent of that group expresses "definite interest" in seeing the film, and 23 percent call it their "first choice" to see next time they're in a theater.
The other big release of the weekend is “The Three Musketeers,” Paul W.S. Anderson’s 3D take on the Alexandre Dumas story.
Summit is releasing the film in 2,017 theaters in North America, but clearly states that it did not finance or produce the movie.
Constantin Film produced it at a cost of around $75 million. It has already opened in 40 international markets and has grossed $48.2 million.
The PG-13 movie’s strongest tracking is among older males, 86 percent of which know about the film and 33 percent of which report definite interest in seeing it, according to NRG. Reviews are spongy-soft at 24 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
"Three Musketeers" is expected to gross in the low double-digits this weekend.
Orlando Bloom, Logan Lerman, Christoph Waltz, Luke Evans, Milla Jovovich and Matthew Macfadyen star.
Universal, meanwhile, also isn’t expecting much from “Johnny English Reborn,” a sequel to Rowan Atkinson’s 2003 comedy.
The studio had an international audience in mind when it made the PG-rated film. And it’s done well abroad. The film debuted overseas in September and is positioned to reach $100 million this weekend.
The Oliver Parker-directed movie has a budget of $45 million, and Universal executives say they'll be happy with a domestic opening of around $6 million – $8 million.
The first “Johnny English” grossed $132.5 million internationally and only $28 million in North America.
Universal is opening the picture at a modest 1,551 locations.
Finally, there’s “The Mighty Macs,” opening at 975 locations.
Executives for distributor Freestyle Releasing say they expect to gross around $2 million on the film, which stars David Boreanz and Carla Gugino and was directed and written by Tim Chambers.
Focused on the true, David and Goliath story of the Cathy Rush, the head basketball coach at the tiny Immaculata College in Philadelphia, "Mighy Macs" has a production budget of around $7 million.
The distributor hopes the inspirational, family-friendly sports themes will draw strong word-of-mouth and bring in bigger crowds during the movie’s second and third weeks.