It was a big weekend at the box office for the ultra-mainstream and the ultra-indie.
Universal's romantic comedy "Couples Retreat" grossed a studio-estimated $35.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, surpassing expectations and becoming the studio's first domestic hit since the spring. Paramount's "Paranormal Activity," meanwhile, set a new ticket-sales record for a movie playing at fewer than 200 theaters, collecting a phenomenal $7.1 million.
Audiences paid no heed to overwhelmingly negative reviews for "Couples Retreat," as it opened similarly to past romantic comedies starring Vince Vaughn, such as " Four Christmases," which started with $31.1 million, and "The Break-Up," which launched to $39.2 million.
More than 61% of moviegoers were female, and there were signs that they liked the film but didn't love it. Ticket sales increased slightly on Saturday, usually a sign of good buzz, and the average grade from the audience was a decent B, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
Most importantly for Universal, "Couples Retreat" seems positioned to hold on well at the box office. Both "Four Christmases" and "The Break-Up" ultimately grossed nearly four times what they collected on their opening weekends after receiving lower CinemaScores.
The strong opening for the film, which cost $60 million to produce, according to a studio representative -- or $70 million, according to a person involved in the movie -- is very good news for Universal, which has had a brutal summer at the box office with misses such as "Land of the Lost" and "Funny People." It owns 75% of "Couples Retreat," while Relativity Media covered the other 25% of its costs.
This weekend was a big test for the mainstream appeal of ultra-low-budget horror movie "Paranormal Activity" as Paramount expanded it beyond midnight shows to play at all hours of the day in 160 theaters. Word-of-mouth and a marketing campaign that focused on Internet buzz paid off handsomely -- "Paranormal" averaged a phenomenal $44,162 at each theater. That puts it in a virtual tie with with " Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds," a concert film that played only on pricier 3-D screens, for the highest per-theater average of all time for a movie playing at more than 100 locations.
Last weekend's No. 1 movie, "Zombieland," enjoyed a relatively modest decline, down only 39% to $15 million. It appears that the Sony Pictures release is playing more like a comedy, as most horror movies decline more than 50%.
In limited release, the Coen Brothers comedy "A Serious Man" continues to play well, averaging $21,274 at 21 theaters and grossing a total of $446,761, bringing its total after two weeks to $799,002. Focus Features plans to expand the movie to about 75 locations on Friday.
Sony Pictures Classics opened the well-reviewed British film "An Education" to a strong $162,381 at four theaters.
However, SPC's soccer movie, "Damned United," debuted to a weak $36,844 at six locations.
'Couples Retreat' a popular destination,'Paranormal Activity' sets record
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