Paranormal Activity 2 Trounces Hereafter

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Paranormal Activity 2

The folks at Paramount Pictures must think they've discovered the secret elixir for box-office success: make cheap, R-rated sequels and release them in October. Following last weekend's boffo debut for Jackass 3D — $50.4 million in three days for a shock-and-crockumentary that cost just $20 million to make — the studio unleashed Paranormal Activity 2, a prequel to last fall's out-of-nowhere haunted-house pseudo documentary. The new edition earned $41.5 million at North American theaters, according to early industry estimates, to finish No. 1 this pre-Halloween weekend and become the all-time top-opening horror film. Though PA2 had a $3 million budget, which is Avatar-size compared with the original's $11,000, it's still nice for filmmakers to see that, in just three days, their work has grossed about 14 times its production cost.

These two bargain-basement sensations have earned Paramount nearly $130 million in 10 days, with more to come. The take for Jackass 3D fell 57% in its second frame, to $21.6 million, but that figure would still have been enough to land the film at the head of the box-office chart in five of the past 10 weekends. With $87.1 million in the till, the Johnny Knoxville masocomedy is already the top-grossing movie released this fall, ahead of The Town ($84.7 million) and The Social Network ($72.9 million), and should become the first of the season's films to reach $100 million by next weekend. (Last autumn's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs passed that mark on Oct. 15.)

Last weekend's runner-up, the senior-citizen spy caper Red, finished third, at $15 million, dropping only 31% in its second time around. The movie appeals to older viewers, who are slower than their grandkids in showing up at theaters but can be counted on to patronize their favorite stars — here Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich as ex-CIA operatives taking on one last mission. Except this surely won't be the last. By tomorrow, Red will have outgrossed all Willis starring-role projects of the past decade, except for Live Free or Die Hard and Sin City. Can you smell a franchise?

The weekend's other new wide release, the otherworldly drama Hereafter, earned a so-so $12 million in expanding from its six-theater showcase to more than 2,000 screens. Starring Matt Damon as a reluctant psychic who's mysteriously connected to two other people with afterlife experiences, Hereafter was directed by Clint Eastwood and continues his middling record in helming films he doesn't appear in. Over the past eight years, Eastwood has taken the leading role in two movies: the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby, from 2004, earned $100.5 million in North America, and the 2008 Gran Torino zoomed to $148 million. Moviegoers still want to see Clint Eastwood; they just don't want to see un film de Clint Eastwood.

Of the six films Eastwood has directed but not starred in, only Mystic River was a hit ($90.1 million). The Japanese-language Letters from Iwo Jima earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination but grossed a disappointing $13.8 million in North America, while three other Eastwood-directed projects — Flags of Our Fathers, Changeling and Invictus — topped out between $30 million and $40 million. That's the likely finishing mark for Hereafter, which would be fine for a low-cost indie but not for a film with a $50 million budget. Oddly, Eastwood's three hits in this stretch were the cheapest to produce: Mystic River at $25 million, Million Dollar Baby at $30 million and Gran Torino at $33 million. The flops cost between $50 million and $90 million, though even those usually made back their investment because they performed well abroad.

At 80, the old cowboy continues to pile up the auteur esteem but not the cash. He ought to think about another starring role — maybe in Paranormal Activity 3, scaring the ghosts away with one angry growl. Or how about Jackass 4? Clint could introduce those crazy guys to a whole new world of pain.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Paranormal Activity 2, $41.5 million, first weekend
2. Jackass 3D, $21.6 million; $87.1 million, second week
3. Red, $15 million; $43.5 million, second week
4. Hereafter, $12 million; $12.3 million, second week
5. The Social Network, $7.3 million; $72.9 million, fourth week
6. Secretariat, $6.9 million; $37.4 million, third week
7. Life as We Know It, $6.15 million; $37.6 million, third week
8. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, $3.2 million; $50.2 million, fifth week
9. The Town, $2.7 million; $84.7 million, sixth week
10. Easy A, $1.75 million; $54.8 million, sixth week