'Paranormal Activity' slashes 'Saw VI' at box office

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It was a gory weekend at the box office for pretty much every movie except "Paranormal Activity."

Paramount Pictures' ultra-low-budget horror film more than doubled its nationwide theater count to 1,945 theaters and continues its winning ways, selling a studio-estimated $22 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada.

Going into the weekend, Hollywood executives with access to pre-release polling had assumed that "Paranormal" would be in a tight race for No. 1 with "Saw VI," the latest entry in Lionsgate's bloody annual franchise. But "Saw VI" opened to the lowest number of any film in the series, grossing just $14.8 million. After the first "Saw," which opened to $18.3 million, the next four sequels all started with more than $30 million.

Most box-office watchers had predicted that "Saw VI" would be hurt a bit by "Paranormal" and open in the range of $20 million to $25 million, but its much weaker launch is a major disappointment for the studio and a sign that interest in the "Saw" series has waned significantly. Lionsgate's only consolation is that the movie cost a modest $11 million to produce, although its marketing was fairly aggressive.

"Paranormal Activity," meanwhile, has cost less than $10 million to market thus far, as Paramount has relied primarily on word-of-mouth and low-cost Internet ads. After playing in a small number of cities for its first two weeks and then slowly expanding over the last three, the movie, which cost $15,000 to produce, has grossed an astounding $62.5 million. It will likely end up grossing more than $100 million.

"Saw VI" was one of four new movies to hit theaters this weekend, all of which started poorly.

Universal Studios' "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant," which the studio co-financed with Relativity Media at a cost of $40 million, debuted to a very weak $6.3 million. The movie, based on a popular series of books, was Universal's attempt to get a bit of the success enjoyed by adaptations like "Harry Potter" and "Twilight." It's another flop for the studio in a difficult year that has, in the domestic market, been punctuated only by hits "Fast & Furious" and "Couples Retreat."

AstroBoy "Astro Boy," which was produced and financed by Imagi Entertainment and distributed by Summit Entertainment, opened to a similarly dismal $7 million. The first self-financed movie from Hong Kong-based Imagi drew a much smaller family crowd than the company had hoped.

Fox Searchlight's "Amelia," which had a number of financiers including the studio and Gateway Inc. co-founder Ted Waitt and cost about $40 million to produce, opened to an anemic $4 million. The true-life tale of the pioneering female aviator, which starred Hillary Swank and was directed by Mira Nair, drew mostly negative reviews, which apparently hurt it with the intended audience of discriminating adults. Though "Amelia" played in fewer theaters than the other new movies, it's unlikely to gross more than $10 million domestically and will certainly be a money loser for those involved.

As for holdovers, the hopes of Warner Bros. and its co-financiers Village Roadshow Pictures and Legendary Pictures that "Where the Wild Things Are" would hold well after a solid but not spectacular start were dashed as it dropped 56% on its second weekend. That's a clear sign that "Wild Things" is playing like an adult drama, not a family movie. The $100-million production, which benefited from tax credits that took down its cost to $80 million, collected $14.4 million this weekend, bringing its total after 10 days to a so-so $54 million.

Thriller "Law Abiding Citizen," which Overture Films distributed for financier the Film Department, had a much better hold, declining a relatively modest 40% on its second weekend to $12.7 million. Its domestic total is now $40.3 million, a healthy performance given its production cost of about $50 million.

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