Leading what appears to be one of the biggest October weekends in box office history, if not the biggest, the Warner Bros. kiddie-book adaptation “Where the Wild Things Are” opened to $32.5 million, according to studio estimates.
Overture thriller “Law Abiding Citizen,” starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler, also exceeded pre-release expectations, taking in $21.3 million for its first three days.
Likewise, another new release, Sony slasher remake “The Stepfather,” over-performed to the tune of $12.3 million.
Meanwhile, Paramount viral horror phenom “Paranormal Activity” took in $18.9 million while expanding to 760 theaters from 160.
And Universal’s “Couples Retreat” dropped 48 percent from week one but still had plenty of juice with a $17.9 weekend.
Studio number crunchers were still doing their thing as of Sunday morning. But according to Kyle Davies, executive VP of distribution for Overture, the total weekend take for the domestic box office should approach $140 million, which would easily be an all-time high.
For its part, Warner is certain that “Wild Things’” $32.5 performance is the biggest October opening ever in its 91-year history, eclipsing the $26.9 million mark established by “The Departed” three years ago.
Earlier in the weekend, after the Spike Jonze-directed film generated $11.9 million on Friday, a number of box-office trackers projected “Wild Things” to exceed the $40 million mark.
“I think many people misread what kind of movie it is,” said Dan Fellman, Warner distribution president, noting that the PG-rated film – primarily marketed to adults – wasn’t going to experience the huge Saturday-afternoon audience bump typically associated with kid-targeted movies.
Last month, for example, Sony’s “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” spiked 62 percent on its first Saturday.
According to Fellman, the Friday performance data also were distorted by the fact that “Wild Things” had generated about $700,000 in midnight shows.
Not that Warner – which co-financed the $70 million movie with Village Roadshow (50 percent stake) and Legendary Pictures (25 percent) — is in any way disappointed with $32.5 million.
In producing the adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book, Warner had the difficult challenge of figuring out how to market the movie. With Jonze at the helm, the film catered as much or more to nostalgic Gen-Xers as to kids.
In the end, Warner decided to commit about 70 percent of its promotional media toward adults, Fellman said. The strategy helped the studio draw an audience that was 43 percent 18-and-over.
Reviews were strong, with the film scoring a 71 on Metacritic, and the movie had decent CinemaScore grades, grabbing an A- from the 55 percent of the audience that was under age 25, for example.
“We certainly got a tremendous response from critics, which I think motivated the Spike Jonze fan club,” Fellman noted.
Meanwhile, Overture’s “Law Abiding Citizen” also exceeded its pre-release tracking, which had the $50 million film doing somewhere between $16 million and $18 million.
“We did exit polls of people coming out of the theaters, and these were the best exit polls we’ve ever had,” Davies said. “It’s a popcorn entertainment thrill ride, and that’s what people are looking for right now.”
Also opening to better-than-expected results, Sony’s remake of the 1987 horror film “The Stepfather” was picked by one box-office forecaster to start out with as little as $7 million, with “Paranormal’s Activity’s” increasingly widening girth cutting into its business.
However, directed by Nelson McCormick, starring “Nip/Tuck’s” Dylan Walsh and “Gossip Girl’s” Penn Badgley and produced for just under $20 million, the PG-rated "Stepfather" was able to avoid the grisly fate endured by a number of other horror films of late.
Still, “Paranormal’s” roll only accelerated. The film, shot by then-amateur filmmaker Oren Peli back in 2006 for $11,000, then acquired and touched up by Paramount for several hundred thousand dollars, has grossed $32.5 million in three weeks of limited release.
“Paranormal” continues to pack movie houses, averaging nearly $25,000 per engagement over the weekend.
Other incumbents leading to the huge fall weekend included last week’s box-office champion, relationship comedy “Couples Retreat.” The ensemble pic, written by and starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, declined 48 percent from its premiere week.
But with $63.3 million garnered in North America after two weeks, Universal seems to finally have a moneymaker on its hands after a difficult summer. The movie cost a reported $60 million to produce.
Meanwhile, after five weeks in release, Sony’s “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” continues to enjoy its position as the only animated kids offering on the block. The $100 million film dropped just 30 percent this weekend, and has now taken in $108.3 million domestically.
Here are the top 10 box office finishers for the weekend: