SUNDAY CENTS: Phenom ‘Activity’

Posted by · 5:46 pm · October 11th, 2009

Couples RetreatThe number one movie at the box office this weekend was Universal’s “Couples Retreat” with $35.3 million. That’s the ninth-biggest October debut in history and the biggest total ever tallied on this particular weekend of the year, but it’s not the biggest success story of the weekend. Not by a mile.

No other films were released wide to compete against Vince Vaughn and company, so the (last) resort comedy was able to stretch its legs and monopolize the date crowd despite poor reviews. Mainly, people showed up to see if the filmmakers actually had the gall to cast Jon Favreau as the irresistible ladies man. Now that’s comedy.

“Zombieland” dropped a very good 39% due to the lack of new competition and has shot up close to $50 million total already. Second weekend holds were pretty good all around with the “Toy Story” double feature dipping 39% as well and “Whip It!” falling 40%. Only “The Invention of Lying” seems to have missed out on the good word of mouth and falls 52%.

But let’s talk about “Paranormal Activity.” The film opened two weeks ago with midnight showings only at 12 theaters in college towns. It averaged $6,489 at each of them, which was pretty impressive. Last week it expanded to 33 screens and a couple of Friday and Saturday evening shows, which turned into a $16,129 per theater average for the weekend. Again, impressive, and proof that Paramount’s unusual distribution approach (which at first appeared like just dumping unwanted product with a contractually obligated release) may actually be working.

This weekend, the film expanded to 159 theaters and grossed $7.1 million to take fifth place on the chart. That’s $44,440 per theater and you are officially looking at the first bona fide box office phenomenon since “Borat.” It joins “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds 3D Concert” as the only two films since “Return of the Jedi” to gross more than $40,000 per theater in over 100 screens. Wherever this thing goes from here is irrelevant. Paramount has hit a grand slam and this release will be studied by rival studios for years to come.

And it may be worth mentioning that phenomena are tough for the Academy to ignore outright. While “The Blair Witch Project” is the easiest comparison and that got no nominations, even the horrifyingly stale “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” script got some recognition so perhaps a sound editing nod could be in the works? Not bad for a couple of people setting up a camera and moving some bedsheets around.

On the limited front, “Trucker” performed pathetically and wiped away any long shot hopes for Michelle Monaghan. “Good Hair” earned over a million bucks, which may make the documentary branch take notice, and “An Education” did a strong $40,595 per screen in 4 theaters.

This week, I gave up $14.75 to “A Serious Man” and didn’t like it at all. I’m sure that won’t go down well with readers (or Kris), but the movie just failed at almost every level for me. Michael Stuhlbarg, however, was absolutely excellent.

Next week finally unleashes the most anticipated hipster event since that ironic mustache party at the American Apparel warehouse: “Where the Wild Things Are.” With broad appeal amongst kids, teens and adults, this should be a $25 million opener at least. I’ve heard some go as high as $35-$40 million, but I’m not quite prepared to make that leap. The fact that Warner Bros. can expect these grosses at all is an amazing turnaround from a year ago when release delays and bad buzz about re-shoots plagued the project.

Competition comes from Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx trying to out-scowl each other in “Law Abiding Citizen.” Overture Films is still a new kid on the block so if they can squeeze out $15 million, that would be great but I’m thinking more like $12 million.

Sony has “The Stepfather,” which ordinarily might find okay business with, but with “Paranormal Activity” likely to expand farther, there won’t be any room for another starless screamfest. $5 million.

What do you guys think? Are you letting these box office results affect your Oscar predictions at all?  Here are the weekend’s top domestic grossers, courtesy of Exhibitor Relations:

Weekend of Friday, October 9, 2009




→ 32 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Box Office · Sunday Cents

32 responses so far

  • 1 10-11-2009 at 6:11 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    That should have read 159 theaters, not 126. My bad. Also, I am thinking $32 mil now for WTWTA.

  • 2 10-11-2009 at 6:12 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    im hoping where the wild things are can hit at least 50 million, if im wrong i think itll be by a lot, either up or down, but this is all ive been hearing about for months

  • 3 10-11-2009 at 6:18 pm

    James D. said...

    I can’t believe Where the Wild Things Are is finally happening. So so excited.

  • 4 10-11-2009 at 6:23 pm

    Dan said...

    I was very excited for WTWTA, but the Landmark has played the trailer before every single film I’ve seen there since sometime in late summer, so now I’m totally sick of it. Hopefully I’ll still love it.

  • 5 10-11-2009 at 6:31 pm

    Georgie said...

    I think/hope that WTWTA will make more than Couples Retreat on opening weekend. What are the plans for An Education and Precious regarding wide release?

  • 6 10-11-2009 at 6:31 pm

    Peter said...

    I hope Academy members don’t think they should give awards for box office success, like you describe for ‘Paranormal Activity’. (McDonald’s sells more meals per minute than any decent restaurant does in a month. That doesn’t mean they deserve a 5-star rating.)
    And the sound awards aren’t consolation prizes. They’re supposed to be for excellence in a collaborative field.
    BTW, am one of the readers you accurately predict as disagreeing with you on Serious Man.

  • 7 10-11-2009 at 7:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    WTWTA isn’t going to open too big, I’d wager. I’m not sure the audience was ever properly identified. And it won’t do repeat business, either.

  • 8 10-11-2009 at 7:07 pm

    Chase Kahn said...

    “A Serious Man” is the best film I’ve seen in the last two years.

    Such a brilliantly cynical and hightened fable about destiny, truth and faith. I love how it slams down every passive, “let it be” noncombatant blind follower through its sandbox illustration of what it means when the world seems to be collapsing around you. What makes it great is the answer (or lack their of) that the Coens come up with.

    Very few films give me that 48-hour numbing effect anymore, but “A Serious Man” is one of them.

  • 9 10-11-2009 at 7:09 pm

    Chase Kahn said...

    Kris, have you seen “Where the Wild Things Are” yet?

  • 10 10-11-2009 at 7:27 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yes, a little while ago. Embargoed, probably won’t review anyway, but it worked for me for the most part. The scars show (because it has a tone crisis), and it’s kinda dark. It misses the mark somewhat.

  • 11 10-11-2009 at 7:27 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Some think it’s terrible.

  • 12 10-11-2009 at 8:03 pm

    brian said...

    Where on earth did A Serious Man cost you $14.75? I can’t speak for Clearview, but The Landmark and Lincoln Center are still $12.50 as far as I know. Is this some screwy non-Manhattan theater?

  • 13 10-11-2009 at 8:04 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I saw it for $6.75. It’s only $5.50 for first showings, too.

    $14 is outrageous!

  • 14 10-11-2009 at 8:05 pm

    Ben M. said...

    While I’m not predicting yet and it doesn’t seem academy-friendly at all, I’m wondering if Paranormal Activity didn’t suddenly become a dark horse for a BP nod, after all it looks to have a great chance to become the biggest percentage return on budget in film history so it is easy to see at least the PGA giving one of their ten slots to it.

    Also, while you might compare it to Blair Witch, I noticed it has almost exactly the same reviews as Sixth Sense, a horror film from the same year that did get nominated no doubt partly to its commercial success. Certainly PA is a longshot and the film would need to continue to impress it wide release to enter the discussion, but just something that popped in my head if the extra slots lead to contention for something more untraditional.

  • 15 10-11-2009 at 8:05 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Arclight Hollywood.

  • 16 10-11-2009 at 8:14 pm

    Ben M. said...

    Yeah, I’m from NY and I was shocked when I visited LA and paid $14 at the Arclight to see Once (though our Imax prices here are really getting out of control), and while I didn’t hate it, I also was underwhelmed with A Serious Man as it just felt like a film with some great moments and ambitions that never really came together.

  • 17 10-11-2009 at 8:44 pm

    Joel said...

    I saw “Paranormal Activity” and was shell-shocked at how completely creepy the whole thing was. Great stuff. And I finally caught up with “Whip It,” which I casually liked; it was sweet and charming and so conventional I couldn’t possibly dislike it.

    “Where the Wild Things Are” will do great this weekend, I think, but you can never know with repeat business. The following weekend brings “The Vampire’s Assistant,” which could do for the “Twilight” crowd before “New Moon” is released.

  • 18 10-11-2009 at 9:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    All the Oscar talk for Paranormal Activity: slow down. Get this train back on track, folks…

  • 19 10-11-2009 at 9:56 pm

    Michael said...

    yeah, no oscar talk for paranormal activity please. let’s just enjoy that movie for what it is, an incredibly scary fucking movie. It doesn’t deserve, or warrant, any recognition from the academy and it is all the better for it. This movie was made out of pure love of horror cinema and it will be surely remembered for a long time b/c of that. And that is certainly enough of a prize anyway. It is sure to be a classic, it just has such an authentic feeling, not only in terms of how real the ghost shit was, but how heartfelt the movie was made. I know this is an oscar blog and the oscar is the end all be all for movies, but some movies are just better than the oscars, and Paranormal Activity is one of them.

  • 20 10-11-2009 at 10:03 pm

    Michael said...

    I think where the wild things will do fine at the box office, but honestly I am most excited about seeing Paranormal Activity again next weekend, now that I won’t have to drive two hours to see it, I can go see it with a huge group of friends who have all been salivating at my stories about how scary it is and they will finally get to see for themselves.

    I am very excited about WTWTA, but I have this feeling in the air that next week a major backlash will hit the film. For some reason all of this time I expected nothing else except that this movie was going to be a masterpiece that I would love like no other, and now that it is finally going to be released, reality is starting to sink in and I am beginning to realize that I may need to reel in my expectations a little bit to not be overly affected by the many months of hype as I have been. I will still see it Friday night though.

  • 21 10-11-2009 at 11:40 pm

    Ali E. said...

    I never knew people expected such great numbers for Where the Wild Things Are… I always thought the general audience would see it as a weird arthouse film and stay away…

  • 22 10-11-2009 at 11:52 pm

    Glenn said...

    The ten-wide field has made people forget that it’s still the Academy we’re talking about.

  • 23 10-12-2009 at 3:23 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Please folks, Paranormal Activity is just a simple student film blown out of proportions. Nothing more.

  • 24 10-12-2009 at 6:21 am

    Chase Kahn said...

    “Some think [Where the Wild Things Are is] terrible.”

    Huh — well I know Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott just ate it up. Plus Peter Travers has apparently given it four stars on the several TV spots I’ve seen this weekend — although Rolling Stone says nothing…

  • 25 10-12-2009 at 6:46 am

    M.Harris said...

    From what I’m hearing,Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx are doing more than scowling each other down as far as “Law Abiding Citizen” goes.From what Peter Bart from Variety wrote, “The sleeper among fall audience pictures might turn out to be “Law Abiding Citizen.” He also states that Butler might grab some nominations for his depiction of a High-IQ killer.

    I’m also hearing a lot of good things on various web sites when it comes to this movie.Just something for folks to keep their eye on.

  • 26 10-12-2009 at 6:48 am

    DHE said...

    I think people are overlooking the fact that “Couples Retreat” is maybe the sort of movie that a lot of people feel like seeing at this point in the year, regardless of reviews. Frankly it’s the kind of movie that people who don’t read reviews, go to see.

  • 27 10-12-2009 at 8:27 am

    Joe said...

    I knew “Paranormal” was going to be big when I was watching another movie on Thursday night, and there were people already waiting an hour ahead for the midnight screenings (I think there were three of them). That said, even if it’s that good, it’s way too soon to start talking Best Picture. (It’s funny how that District 9 talk faded away pretty quickly, didn’t it?) I still think that if any of this year’s box office hits gets in, it’ll be “The Hangover”. At least that film has a shot (no matter how looooong) at other nominations, like screenplay and supporting actor (Galifanakis). “Paranormal” would get Best Picture and… absolutely nothing else.

  • 28 10-12-2009 at 8:42 am

    Georgie said...

    Joe, you think that The Hangover has a better shot than, for example, Star Trek? Star Trek has a viable shot at getting multiple tech nominations, much more likely than The Hangover getting screenplay or supporting actor. Same with District 9.

  • 29 10-12-2009 at 11:54 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    District 9, Star Trek and The Hangover were hits. Bigger than expected hits. The numbers Paranormal Activity put up this weekend are something else entirely. I’m not saying it’s gonna get a Best Picture nod but I’m saying that it might get tossed some sort of bone as recognition like Greek Wedding and Borat’s screenplay nods.

  • 30 10-12-2009 at 12:58 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    With the final figures now in, no film has made more per screen in over 100 theaters since “Return of the Jedi”.

  • 31 10-12-2009 at 1:06 pm

    James D. said...

    Joe, are you getting on my The Hangover prediction bandwagon?

  • 32 10-13-2009 at 9:45 am

    Joe said...

    James D. – I’d say yes. I’m not necessarily betting the farm that “Hangover” makes it, but it’s my darkhorse bet. And isn’t this whole thing more fun when you have a wacky prediction or two?

    Georgie – D9 was very good, and Star Trek wasn’t bad. But they weren’t massive surprise hits the way Hangover was. If anything, D9 and Star Trek have underperformed (slightly – of course, it’s hard to call $250 mil or making 4X your budget underperforming) given their hype. Hangover, however, came out of nowhere and surprised people with its quality. That surprise factor counts for something.