Paranormal Paramount Rules Box Office
By John Hamann
October 24, 2010
Following a series of weekends where the box office was extremely lackluster, we now have two consecutive weekends of openers beating up on expectations. Last weekend brought the surprisingly large Jackass 3D and its $50 million opening frame; this weekend brings Paranormal Activity 2, the ultra-low budget, one location film, where the highly successful original opened only a year ago. The Jackass 3D gimmick worked very well last weekend, hammering expectations – would this weekend's gimmick do the same? Paramount certainly hopes so – they are the studio behind both Jackass 3D and Paranormal Activity, two films that carry a combined production cost of only $23 million.
Only a year ago, Paramount Pictures rolled out one of the most highly successful no-budget films ever in the form of Paranormal Activity. The one location film was made for only $15,000, using a home video camera and actors who were paid only $500 for a week's work. Paramount went the viral marketing route to create awareness for this extremely small but very scary picture, rolling out the horror flick at college towns via midnight screenings that were marketed via social networking. The film earned $77,873 from 12 screens over the September 25, 2009 weekend and had an okay venue average of $6,489. The average was low due to the film playing only once per day (midnight screenings), but to literally packed houses. Over the second weekend, the site count went up to 33 screens, and the weekend gross exploded, bringing in $532,000 - a 500% increase – as round the clock screenings started and the buzz was loud. The third weekend brought the expansion up to 160 sites, and this was when Paramount knew they had something special. Paranormal Activity grossed $7.9 million from those 160 screens, and the film earned an average of $49,379, an average usually dedicated to Oscar wannabes with big directors and big stars, opening in only four locations. Paranormal Activity peaked over weekends four and five, pulling in grosses of $19.6 million and $21.1 million from 763 and 1,945 venues, making it a mega-hit. With a venue count never above 2,712, Paranormal Activity went on to earn $107.9 million at domestic cinemas and another $85.4 million overseas. Paramount spent only $350,000 picking up the distribution rights, and another $10 million to market it, which makes it one of the shrewdest acquisitions ever.
A year later we are back in the house of Paranormal Activity, and while the title suggests sequel, this one is really a prequel, with the filmmakers were looking to avoid the Blair Witch Sequel curse (first film gross: $140 million, second film gross: $26.4 million). A tight budget was adhered to again, with this one coming in at only $3 million. Midnight screenings on Thursday were hot, with Paranormal Activity 2 bringing in $6.3 million through late night screenings alone. Based solely on production budget, this one was profitable before getting to regular screenings on Friday. Tracking estimates for the weekend were sitting at $30 million, but by the time midnight amounts were reported, we knew that tracking estimate was going to be off. The Friday gross was reported at $20.1 million, but after that $6.3 million is stripped out, the Friday gross is really $13.8 million, still higher than expected. The three-day gross for Paranormal Activity 2 came in at a powerful $41.5 million from 3,216 venues, giving it a venue average of $12,904. For the second straight weekend, tracking estimates were obliterated, as the draw for these gimmicky films was underestimated.