Box-Office Bloodbath: Paranormal Slays Saw VI

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Paramount / Everett

Katie Featherston in Paranormal Activity

There was blood at the wickets this pre-Halloween, as the corpses of every one of the weekend's new movies littered the lobbies of North American theaters. The Saw torture-porn franchise took the biggest hit, with its sixth installment getting chainsawed by the Paranormal Activity phenomenon. Another horror entry, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, was D.O.A. Astro Boy, the third autumn movie based on a kids, pop-culture touchstone, didn't fly; and neither did the aviation bio-pic Amelia, which took off at low altitude and instantly crashed. As for the weekend's goriest psychodrama, Lars von Trier,s Antichrist, it performed anemically in limited release. If you're keeping score of the weekend body count, that's Trick: 5; Treat: 1.

Paranormal continued its preternatural rise. Made for $11,000, bought by Paramount Pictures for just $300,000 and marketed for less than $10 million, Oren Peli's subtle scare-athon earned $22 million to become a winner in its fifth week of gradually widening release. It has now earned $62.5 million and could hit $100 million. What's next? The Inevitable. According to today's Los Angeles Times, Paramount is "actively considering producing a sequel."

The DIY haunted-house movie was expected to be in a tight race with Saw VI, four of whose elder siblings had easily won the pre-Halloween weekends on which they,d been released. But some steamrollers can't be stopped. Paranormal, playing on only 64% as many screens as Saw VI, made 67% more money. The $14.8 million estimated weekend total had to be a disappointment to Lionsgate, the series, sponsor. "If we end up with at least $20 million," David Spitz, the company's executive VP and general manager, told the industry blog The Wrap, "we'll be talking about Saw VII, this time next year." Oh, no — a fright season without Jigsaw luridly dismembering nubile teens? Say it ain't so!

Before throwing dirt on the Saw coffin, consider that the first film in the franchise, made for just $1.2 million back in 2004, earned $103.1 million worldwide; and that the total gross for the first five films is a whopping $669 million on a still stingy $35 million cumulative budget. That's the kind of return on investment that encourages a studio to keep grinding 'em out. Moreover, each of the last three entries made more than half its money in foreign markets, where Saw VI isn't going up against the no-budget specter of Paranormal. So gorenography aficionados can probably plan to don their goggles and their protective butchers, aprons next October for Saw VII: 3-D.

It's always an embarrassment when a movie earns less than the low-ball figures its executives publicly predict. The Vampire's Assistant, envisioned as the launch of a franchise based on Darren Shan's horror-romance books, came with the creative pedigree of director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, In Good Company) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential). Its distributor had a modest goal: "If it comes in with double digits," said Universal's Nikki Rocco, "that will be a win for us." Instead, it cadged just $6.3 million. Expect no sequels du Freak.

Nor will you be seeing Amelia 2: Lost and Found. The Earhart movie, originally to have been directed by Phillip Noyce, with Cate Blanchett rumored to play Amelia Earhart, was finally made with Hilary Swank starring and India-born, Harvard-educated Mira Nair behind the camera. It happens that, in every recent year divisible by five, Swank has won the Academy Award for Best Actress: in 2000 for Boys Don,t Cry and 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. Numerology suggested another Swank statuette in 2010. But who, exactly, was supposed to pay to see her as The Aviatrix? Earhart's plane was lost in the mid-Pacific 72 years ago, making octogenarians the target demographic. Amelia didn't premiere at the Venice or Toronto film festivals, as many Oscar hopefuls do; and it earned a scathing 17% score from the Rotten Tomatoes survey of critics, who might otherwise have lured older customers to the project. The film took in only $4 million, finishing out of the top 10. And for Oscar watchers, the already limited pool of best-actress candidates just got smaller.

Here are the official studio estimates for this weekend's top 10 movies in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Paranormal Activity, $22 million; $62.5 million, fifth week
2. Saw VI, $14.8 million, first week
3. Where the Wild Things Are, $14.4 million; $54 million, second week
4. Law Abiding Citizen, $12.7 million; $40.3 million, second week
5. Couples Retreat, $11.1 million; $78.2 million, third week
6. Astro Boy, $7 million, first week
7. The Stepfather, $6.5 million; $20.4 million, second week
8. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, $6.3 million, first week
9. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, $5.6 million; $115.2 million, sixth week
10. Zombieland, $4.3 million; $67.3 million, fourth week