In a word, the weekend box office was torture for Lionsgate.
Cursed with Paramount’s viral phenomenon "Paranormal Activity" unexpectedly opening wide on the pre-Halloween weekend release schedule, Lionsgate was hoping to at least premiere the sixth installment of its venerable "Saw" franchise to $20 million.
However, with "Paranormal" leading all comers this weekend with another $22 million at 1,945 venues, "Saw VI" is projected to finish the weekend with just $14.8 million, according to studio estimates. That’s less than half of the $30 million generated by each of the previous four "Saw" sequel installments upon their respective openings.
"This will not be the last ‘Saw,’" declared David Spitz, executive VP and general manager for Lionsgate. "It still is the No. 1 grossing horror franchise in the history of our industry. It’s a phenomenon in its own right that’s done over $350 million domestically."
"If you were Lionsgate, you couldn’t really see this thing coming," conceded Don Harris, executive VP of distribution for Paramount. "They were just unlucky."
Indeed, "Paranormal’s" rise from $11,000 amateur filmmaker project to a film that has grossed more than $62 million domestically is, in the words of Harris, like making "wine out of water."
And for his part, Spitz can sip some solace in the knowledge that outside of "Paranormal," nothing else released into theaters this weekend performed up to expectations, either.
Distributed into 3,014 theaters, the manga-animated "Astro Boy," a collaboration between Summit Entertainment and Japan’s Imagi Studios, didn’t come close to its makers’ double-digit hopes, opening to an estimated $7 million. Distribution in the Far East will ultimately determine whether the film’s $70 million price tag was worthwhile.
Meanwhile, all the way back in eighth place this weekend, "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant," didn’t come close to achieving Universal’s modest hopes either. The $40 million vampire fantasy, which stars John C. Reilly, will take in a projected $6.3 million over the three-day period.
Like "Saw VI," which saw its date-night audience sapped by "Paranormal’s" female drawing power, the PG-13-rated "Vampire’s Assistant" found its target audience in short supply.
"There’s no blood (in ‘Paranormal Activity’), which makes the movie more accessible to audiences other than the male quadrant," Harris noted.
Meanwhile, in "Paranormal’s" wake, incumbents didn’t do great this weekend, either.
Warner’s "Where the Wild Things Are," last weekend’s box-office champ, dropped a whopping 55 percent and will finish its second weekend in third place with $14.4 million. The Spike Jonze-directed adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s kiddie-book classic has now taken in $54 million. Warner put its production budget at around $75 million.
More happily, Fox Searchlight biopic "Amelia," which stars Hilary Swank as the avionics-pioneering title character, took in $4 million at 818 theaters. For perspective, three weeks ago, it took 1,721 engagements to get Searchlight’s "Whip It" to $4.7 million.
Meanwhile, Overture’s Jamie Foxx/Gerard Butler thriller "Law Abiding Citizen" dropped only 40 percent in its second weekend, taking in $12.7 million. The $50 million movie’s two-week cumulative total now stands at $40.3 million.
Universal comedy "Couples Retreat," meanwhile, continues to hold up well, dropping only 36 percent in its third week while bringing in another $11.1 million. Produced for $60 million, according to Universal, the movie, written by and starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, has now made $78.2 million domestically.
After a summer-long draught, Universal has finally found itself a moneymaker.
Of course, nothing beats the profitability of Paramount’s "Paranormal," which has now made more than $62 million over four weeks of steadily ramped up release, starting with a handful of college-town midnight shows in late September.
The economics of the movie, shot in 2006 by first-time filmmaker Oren Peli for under $15,000, are rather staggering.
Paramount spent about $300,000 to acquire and spruce up the "Blair Witch"-ish movie for theatrical release. The studio has committed less than $10 million to prints and advertising, according to Harris, choosing inexpensive social media over pricy TV buys.
"I commend Paramount for its distribution strategy," Spitz noted. "This is a phenomenon. It’s disappointing for us. But from a positive standpoint, this is one of the great things about the movie business."
For his part, Spitz — a former Artisan official who worked on the "Blair Witch" distribution campaign a decade ago — conceded that Lionsgate feels a little snakebitten, in so much that "Paranormal" wasn’t on the release schedule when it slated "Saw VI" for its usual late October dominance.
However, with a production budget of only around $10 million, the sixth "Saw" won’t necessarily be a money-loser, and the studio will go ahead with plans to try to reinvigorate the franchise with a more expensive 3D installment released this time next year.
Meanwhile, Spitz said Lionsgate is looking forward to what could be its own platform phenomenon in early November, with the Oprah Winfrey/Tyler Perry-backed "Precious" debuting in limited release.
Also looking ahead, Sony has already sold out more than 1,600 screenings for next week’s premiere of "Michael Jackson: This Is It," with prerelease tracking suggesting the film — which debuts Wednesday — could do as much as $40 million in ticket sales over its first five days in theaters.
Here are the top 10 movies at the weekend boxoffice, according to Sunday’s studio estimates:
Paranormal Activity ($22.0 million)
Saw VI ($14.8 mil)
Where the Wild Things Are ($14.4 mil)
Law Abiding Citizen ($12.7 mil)
Couples Retreat ($11.1 mil)
Astro Boy ($7.0 mil)
The Stepfather ($6.5 mil)
The Vampire’s Assistant ($6.3 mil)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ($5.6 mil)
Zombieland ($4.3 mil)