Weekend Wrap-Up

Paranormal Active, Saw Lacks Teeth

By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower

October 25, 2009

They're laughing at you, Jigsaw. You must be spinning in your grave.

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Autumn means horror is king at the box office and this weekend is no exception. The top two choices for North American film audiences were the latest sequel to a franchise that has dominated October in the 2000s and an amateur film that is selling like a blockbuster. In the end, the new hotness of Paranormal Activity thrilled consumers while the Saw franchise looked old and tired...and well past its expiration date.

Paranormal Activity finished its ascension from midnight venue to novelty to box office champion this weekend, earning an estimated $22 million. This unlikely turn of events indicates that the film that debuted in 47th place a month ago has risen to 20th place in its second weekend, fourth place in its third weekend, third place in its fourth weekend and now wins its fifth weekend in theaters. The marketing team at Paramount Pictures has hit the most dramatic homerun of their careers with this title, which is poised to shatter any number of records for profitability.


The distributor paid only $300,000 for the rights to the home video production that has earned $7.9 million, $19.6 million and now $22.0 million over the past three weekends. The film has a running tally of $62.5 million, making it the box office equivalent of a penny stock that evolves into a Fortune 500 company. It is all but certain to break $100 million now. In terms of per-location average, the platform expansion from 763 venues to 1,945 meant a drop of only 56% from $25,711 to $11,311. Most titles that expand this much drop somewhere around 70-80% in terms of per-location, yet another way that Paranormal Activity has rewritten the rules. The end result is that for the fifth (!) straight weekend, the little horror film that could has increased in weekend revenue. It has jumped from $77,873 in 12 locations (with only midnight showings) to $532,242 in 33 locations (583% growth) to the aforementioned $7.9 million in 160 locations (1384% growth) to $19.6 million in 763 locations (148%) growth. In weekend five, that $22 million in 1,945 locations indicates 12% growth from last weekend's already jaw-dropping performance. Stating the obvious, Paranormal Activity's October run has seen it accomplish any number of remarkable box office feats that are unlikely to be matched ever again...and Halloween isn't even until next weekend.

To a certain extent, the success of Paranormal Activity is an example of history repeating itself. In October of 2004, a production with a miniscule $1.2 million budget (which would pay for roughly 100 Paranormal Activities, but I digress) shocked the industry by earning $18.3 million. The original Saw would go on to earn $55.2 million for Lionsgate, and the studio quickly realized they should do a sequel. Every year. No matter what. While the original Saw never won a box office weekend, Saw II, III and IV all dominated the competition, each opening in first place with $31.7-$33.6 million. Saw V absorbed a small amount of slippage as it became the first film since the original to fail to finish in first place. The unlikely combatant High School Musical 3: Senior Year beat it handily, $42.0 million to $30.0 million; however, Saw V was still a huge success relative to its $10.8 million budget. Frugal production cost has been the hallmark of this franchise. All of the titles have been made in the $10 million range, which is something we should keep in mind as we discuss the relative failure of Saw VI.

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