Movie projector: ‘Saw’ and ‘Paranormal’ do battle as ‘Amelia’ looks anemic

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Maybe the Great Pumpkin has the answer.

It’s the weekend before Halloween and it’s anybody’s guess which movie will scare audiences more.

‘Paranormal Activity’ on Friday will more than double its number of theaters (which is about as wide as Paramount Pictures’ low-budget horror phenom is expected to go) on the same weekend that Lionsgate unleashes ‘Saw VI,’ this year’s entry in its annual horror series.


Both films are likely to sell roughly $25 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have seen pre-release moviegoer polls. ‘Saw VI’ has been more aggressively marketed on television, but ‘Paranormal Activity’ has generated much stronger word-of-mouth after starting off by playing midnight shows in college towns and then slowly expanding.

There’s little doubt that ‘Saw VI’ will have the smallest opening of any movie in the series since the first ‘Saw’ in 2004, representing a gradual decline of audience interest over the years. Every movie in the horror franchise since ‘Saw II’ has opened to over $30 million, a target that looks very unlikely for ‘VI.’

Still, ‘Saw VI’ cost only about $11 million to produce, meaning Lionsgate should still turn a healthy profit on the picture.

Paramount, meanwhile, is on a hugely profitable ride with ‘Paranormal Activity,’ an independent movie that cost just $15,000 to produce and on which the studio has spent less than $10 million on marketing. After nearly four weeks in release, ‘Paranormal’ has grossed $38.6 million. On Wednesday it was the No. 1 film in the country for the first time since it debuted.

Three other movies also open this weekend, none of which are likely to do much business.

Most problematic is Fox Searchlight’s ‘Amelia,’ which stars Hillary Swank as aviation pioneer Amelia Earheart and has generated the least interest of any of the weekend’s new films among moviegoers, according to surveys. The film, which has several financiers and cost about $40 million to produce, appears likely to collect only around $5 million this weekend. While it’s not playing in as many theaters as other movies in wide release, that’s still a weak start. (For more on ‘Amelia,’ see this post by the Times’ Patrick Goldstein on The Big Picture)

The only audience segment demonstrating any interest in the film in tracking surveys is adults older than 30, particularly women.

Animated film ‘Astro Boy,’ which Imagi Entertainment produced and financed and is being distributed by Summit Entertainment, is likely to collect just a little more, around $10 million, from families with young boys.

Universal releases ‘Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,’ based on books of the same name, in an attempt to get a piece of the big money that has come to films like ‘Twilight.’ The movie was co-financed equally by Universal and Relativity Media at a cost of about $40 million, and is likely to open to a modest but not terrible $12 million.

It’s very possible that all three of those films will come in behind the second weekend of ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ which could decline to the mid- or high-teens after opening to $32.7 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: ‘Saw VI.’ Credit: Steve Wilkie / Lionsgate.