Like planning outlandish homemade stunts, motion-picture tracking is often followed by unanticipated results.
One such anomaly occurred over the weekend, with the third installment of Paramount's low-budget freak show "Jackass" opening to $50 million, according to studio estimates — about twice what was expected.
If Sunday's weekend projections hold up, the R-rated "Jackass 3D" will have enjoyed the biggest October opening ever, besting the $48 million start in 2003 for Dimension's "Scary Movie 3."
In fact, while hosting exhibitors at Paramount's suite last week at ShowEast in Orlando, Fla., studio distribution GM Don Harris said that not one of the theater-chain managers thought "Jackass 3D" would even beat the $29 million premiere of 2006's part-two installment.
"But I always thought it would play bigger," Harris conceded. "We haven't seen much of the ('Jackass' filmmakers) in while. Plus, the movie plays really well in 3D."
Summit's action-comedy ensemble "Red" also had a solid weekend, grossing $22.5 million and narrowly exceeding its own pre-release projections.
Also debuting with limited runs, Oscar hopefuls "Conviction" from Fox Searchlight and "Hereafter" from Warner produced middling per-screen averages.
Produced by Summit for $58 million, "Red" stars Bruce Willis as a retired black-ops human weapon who gets pulled back into the game. Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren co-star in the film, which got a solid A-minus score from movie customer-satisfaction grader Cinemascore.
As expected, the film's audience skewed older, with 58 percent of patrons aged 35-plus. The audience was also 53 percent male.
"The older audience, being what it is, they don't rush out and see these things, they're marathoners," noted Summit distribution chief Richie Fay. "That's why we think this movie will play well in the coming weeks."
Here's the weekend's top 10. Report continues below chart:
Harris believes that both "Jackass 3D" and "Red" satisfied a hunger for lighter, fun fare that might have been missing last weekend, when a middling domestic box office was led by the $15.5 million week-two performance of Sony's "The Social Network."
Despite strong performances by "Jackass 3D" and "Red," the domestic box office was nearly flat (down 2 percent, actually) with same weekend last year, which was led by Warner's "Where the Wild Things Are."
That children's-book adaptation was directed by Spike Jonze, producer of the "Jackass" franchise.
Two awards-targeted films from major studios also made limited debuts this weekend.
Starring Hilary Swank as — once again — a woman of limited means rising up to a challenge, Fox Searchlight's "Conviction" grossed an estimated $110,000 playing at 11 big-city locations for a ice-cold per-screen average of only $10,000 per engagement.
Based on a true story, "Conviction" stars Swank as a woman who goes back to high school, then attends law school, in an effort to get her brother out of prison.
Meanwhile, debuting in six locations from Warner Bros., the Clint Eastwood-directed "Hereafter" grossed $231,000.
It's $38,500-per-screen average, while much better than that of "Conviction," could make Warner think twice about a planned expansion to more than 2,200 theaters next Friday.
Among holdovers, the David Fincher-directed "Social Network" finished in third place, dropping only 29 percent in weekend No. 3 to $11 million.
In fourth place, Disney sports movie "Secretariat" dropped only 25 percent from its middling $12.6 million opening, grossing $9.5 million.
Shot on a budget of around $38 million, the Triple Crown-winner biopic has grossed nearly $27.5 million after two weekends.
The big story of the weekend, however, was "Jackass 3D," which re-united Jonze, director Jeff Tremaine and star Johnny Knoxville, 10 years after the "Jackass" brand was first introduced to MTV.
The film was produced on a budget of only around $20 million, which was about double the negative cost for the second film.
Paramount's Harris, for one, believes the added cost of shooting the film natively in 3D — which nearly doubled the production nut — was well worth it.
"The movie, in a way, re-invented itself in 3D," he said. "It gave it the look of something new, and the marketing exploited that."
Harris also believes that the absence of Knoxville and his freakish "Jackass" gang made moviegoers hearts grow fonder.
"You look at 2006, when the last movie was released, they were also on cable — they were around," he said. "But they haven't been heard from a lot recently."
Opening in 3,081 theaters across North America, most of them 3D-equipped, "Jackass 3D" garnered a B-plus Cinemascore from an audience that was 40 percent female.
In fact, the demographic increased by 15 percent among female moviegoers over the second "Jackass."