Audiences are Paranormal but not Cross
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
October 21, 2012
It’s late October and people love to be scared, so that must mean it’s time for yet another film from the
Saw Paranormal Activity franchise to own theaters for a weekend. Hollywood continues to celebrate solid numbers at the top of the box office charts thanks to a fourth entry from the found footage series. Also new this weekend was Alex Cross, a film that stars Tyler Perry in a role that was once portrayed by Morgan Freeman. It was a foregone conclusion which film would wind up in the top spot.
And of course, the #1 film in North America this weekend is Paranormal Activity 4, the latest in the creepy, demon-possession franchise. Starring no one you know (unless Katie Featherston from the previous films counts), Paranormal Activity 4 took in $30.2 million from Friday-to-Sunday, along with $26.5 million from international venues.
Since 2009, we’ve had a new Paranormal Activity feature each year. The first film burst onto the scene with an ingenious social media campaign that had audiences “demand” the film on eventful.com. After selling out in limited venues weekend after weekend, Paramount finally took the film fully wide on October 6, 2009, when it earned $19.6 million. By the time it departed theaters, it had earned $107.9 million (and an additional $86 million internationally).
This performance set the stage for massive expansion for the sequels. Paranormal Activity 2 debuted with a gaudy $40.7 million (and a domestic total of $84.7 million), while the third film opened with $52.6 million last year (domestic total of $104 million). It’s generally believed that the Paranormal Activity series “killed” the Saw franchise, as the new hotness of demon ghost things was perceived to be scarier and more “in style” than the stale torture porn offered up by Jigsaw.
Although there’s not a new horror franchise to knock Paranormal Activity 4 from its Halloween perch, it is showing significant audience erosion. After strong opening weekends for each of the first three films, Paranormal Activity 4’s debut was off 42% from its predecessor’s. At some point, there’s only so far you can take a horror tale without it veering into the realm of the ridiculous.
There is some good news for the film, as its weekend multiplier was actually pretty solid. If you take out the Thursday night screening numbers of $4.5 million for PA4, its Friday number was $10.3 million. Again removing the Thursday numbers from the weekend total, you have a three-day figure of $25.7 million. That means the film had a 2.57 multiplier, which is stronger than the 2.0 – 2.2 you generally see for this sort of horror release. The problem PA4 faces is that word spreads quickly in the social media era, and with a 28% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a C Cinemascore, word-of-mouth is nonexistent. Next weekend, with direct competition from a new, interesting-looking Silent Hill release, Paranormal Activity 4 might truly fall off a cliff.
Even so, there’s no reason for Paramount to stop producing these scary flicks. This weekend’s film had a production budget of only $5 million (and marketing costs are likely not terribly high, either), so they’re laughing all the way to the bank for a fourth time. We understand that Paranormal Activity 4 sets up multiple sequels, so we will likely be repeating some variation of this discussion a year from now, and maybe two years from now as well.