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First look: ‘Couples Retreat’ a popular destination, ‘Paranormal Activity’ sets record

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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.

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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, ‘The Damned United,’ debuted to a weak $36,844 at six locations.

-- Ben Fritz

Related:

‘Couples Retreat’ review

‘An Education’ review

‘Paranormal Activity’ review

How ‘Paranormal Activity’ drives abnormal interest

Top photo: From left, Malin Akerman, Vince Vaughn and Jean Reno in ‘Couples Retreat.’ Credit: John Johnson / Universal Pictures


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