"Paranormal Activity 3" didn't just go bump in the night. It made a ton of noise at the box office with a record-setting, $54 million opening.
The third film in Paramount Pictures' low-budget fright franchise, which was No. 1 at the box office, had the biggest debut ever for a horror movie, according to Sunday studio estimates. It broke the previous record part two set a year ago with $40.7 million. It's also the biggest opening ever for an October release, topping the $50.35 million Paramount's "Jackass 3D" made last year.
"Paranormal Activity 3" is actually a prequel, with the discovery of disturbing home-movie footage from 1988. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who made the creepy documentary "Catfish," took over directing duties this time.
Don Harris, Paramount's president of distribution, said the studio hoped part three would simply perform better than part two. The first "Paranormal Activity," with its reported $15,000 budget, became a phenomenon in 2009 through midnight screenings and word of mouth.
Harris believes this installment did so well because it's actually the best movie of the three. He noted that it appealed to an older crowd, with 47 percent over the age of 25 compared to 40 percent for "Paranormal Activity 2." Strong reviews also helped, he said, including a rave from Time magazine. And fundamentally, horror movies simply play better in a packed theater.
"Ultimately, it gets back to why there's still a theatrical business, why people still go to the movies," Harris said. "We want to laugh in a group, we want to be scared in a group, people like to cry in a group in the dark where nobody can see them crying. It's all the reason movie theaters exist and this genre has always been front and center."
Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com, said he was expecting "Paranormal Activity 3" to come in around $35 million for the weekend, simply because most newcomers have been underperforming this fall.
"This brand is as solid as the 'Twilight' brand or the 'Jackass' brand. There are certain brands that just transcend any kind of box-office rhyme or reason. They just resonate," Dergarabedian said. "These are shot in someone's house, they look like they're shot with a home video recorder, and people just relate to it."
Last week's No. 1 release, the futuristic boxing robot adventure "Real Steel," fell to second place. It made $11.3 million for a domestic total of $67.2 million. Worldwide, the Disney movie has grossed $153.3 million.
Among the other new releases this week, Summit Entertainment's 3-D version of "The Three Musketeers" came in fourth place with $8.8 million. And Universal's "Johnny English Reborn," a sequel to the 2003 spy parody starring Rowan Atkinson, opened at No. 8 with $3.8 million. But it's already a huge hit internationally, having made $104.5 million so far.
In limited release, the critically acclaimed psychological thriller "Martha Marcy May Marlene" made $137,541 on four screens in New York and Los Angeles. That's a hefty $34,385 per screen average, according to Fox Searchlight.