Disney's neo-holiday classic, "Frozen," packed snowbound theaters to narrowly beat out the weekend's only wide-release contender, "Paranormal Activity: Marked Ones," for the inaugural No. 1 ranking of 2014.
The latter, the latest entry in the popular "Paranormal Activity" horror franchise, turned in a lukewarm debut for a film that came with hot hopes. People who saw prerelease audience surveys initially bet that the low-budget movie would gross nearly $30 million in ticket sales.
In reality it collected only $18.2 million, while "Frozen" took in $20.7 million.
Relatively speaking, however, "Marked Ones" did just fine, Megan Colligan, Paramount's president of domestic marketing and distribution, said Sunday. After all, the film has already recouped more than three times its $5-million price tag.
"Tracking always said we were in the mid-teens and that's where we thought we would be. I don’t know who had us at $30 million, but it's not reflective of anything that we had," said Colligan. "It’s a $5-million movie. It has totally unknown actors, and with this one we weren’t relying on the stable of the previous films’ mythology. It was meant to be fresh and new."
2013 proved to be the year when low-budget horror hit big. The year's most enticing triumph went to the summertime release of Warner Bros.' "The Conjuring," which was made for $20 million and went on to become a worldwide sensation, grossing a mammoth $318 million before it wound down.
Other winners included "Insidious: Chapter 2" ($161 million worldwide), "Mama" ($146 million worldwide), "Evil Dead" ($98 million worldwide) and "The Purge" ($89 million worldwide).
Each one of those films cost between $3 million and $20 million to make.
The allure of supernatural horror films was particularly strong with Latino audiences. In the case of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise, 11% of domestic ticket sales for the original 2007 movie came from that demographic. That number rose to 19% for the last sequel.
That's the reason that "Marked Ones" ditched the normal "Paranormal" suburban environs for that of a working-class Latino neighborhood in Oxnard. Haunted houses give way to demonic possession -- but the signature found footage stays the same.
Colligan said that demographic information isn't yet unavailable but that Paramount believes its bet on an enthusiastic Latino market paid off.
"Our top 25 theaters are in predominantly Hispanic communities," said Colligan. "The Southwest accounted for 16.5% of our gross."
Betting on a movie horse leading up to the Year of the Horse, however, has turned out to be a bit of a fool's errand.
Many films that were expected to do exceedingly well out of the gate, like "Anchorman 2," and "The Wolf of Wall Street," did not. Meanwhile, a number of favorites like "Frozen," "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," claimed consistently solid numbers to become seemingly unstoppable box-office forces.
"Frozen" had fairly little competition by way of children's films this holiday season. With a worldwide cumulative gross of more than $600 million, it is now the second-highest-grossing Disney Animation release of all time, behind "The Lion King."
Impressively it once again nabbed the No. 1 spot in its seventh weekend of release, after claiming the same spot in its third weekend.
"The Hobbit" held on to the No. 1 spot for three straight weeks, but fell to No. 3 this weekend with $16.3 million. Warner Bros.' Middle-earth epic has a cumulative domestic gross of $230 million. Meanwhile, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" has earned a staggering $407.5 million, which puts it on track to beat the $409-million record held by 2013's highest grossing film, "Iron Man 3."
Martin Scorsese's lascivious Wall Street parable "The Wolf of Wall Street" continued its not-so-hot streak, coming in at No. 4 with $13.4 million. Its buzz is growing, however, and it remains a film to watch during awards season.
Also in the Oscars race, "American Hustle" and "Saving Mr. Banks" continued to make waves and turn heads. The former generated $13.2 million for the No. 5 spot, and the latter came in at No. 7 with $9.1 million.
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