"Paranormal Activity" has won a weekend battle of fright films over part six of the "Saw" franchise.
Paramount's upstart chiller "Paranormal Activity" went into nationwide release and took over the No. 1 spot with $22 million. That compares to just $14.8 million for the debut of "Saw VI," a franchise that has been an annual fixture before the October Halloween holiday since 2004.
It was the worst opening ever for Lionsgate's "Saw" series, whose previous low was $18.3 million for the original movie. Subsequent installments of the "Saw" franchise all opened at $30 million or better.
This time, horror fans simply gravitated toward "Paranormal Activity" instead of "Saw VI."
"‘Paranormal’ ate their lunch," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "There's no other way to explain it."
After four weeks in narrower release, Paramount slotted "Paranormal Activity" into 1,945 theaters. That still was just under two-thirds of the 3,036 theater count for "Saw VI."
It has a strong shot at topping $100 million, something none of the "Saw" movies ever managed. While "Saw," the grisly saga of a puppetmaster putting victims through savage moral tests, was embraced as a fresh twist by horror fans five years ago, it now is part of the Hollywood establishment compared to "Paranormal Activity."
"There's no question ‘Paranormal’ offered a fresh alternative," said Rob Moore, Paramount vice chairman. "This movie definitely has achieved a place in our culture right now."
Hoping for a Halloween jolt
The overall box office declined, with Hollywood revenues totaling $121 million, down 9 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" debuted with $42 million and "Saw V" opened with $30.1 million.
The box-office should get a jolt over Halloween as "Paranormal Activity" expands to as many as 2,500 theaters and Sony's "Michael Jackson: This Is It" heads into its first weekend after debuting late Tuesday night.
Among other wide releases, Summit Entertainment's "Astro Boy" opened at No. 6 with $7 million, Universal's "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" debuted at No. 8 with $6.3 million, and Fox Searchlight's "Amelia" premiered at No. 11 with $4 million.
"Astro Boy" features the voices of Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell and Nicolas Cage in a sci-fi adventure based on the Japanese comic book and cartoon series about a superhero child robot. "Vampire's Assistant" stars John C. Reilly as a centuries-old bloodsucker who takes on a teenage apprentice in a traveling freak show. "Amelia" is a film biography of pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart starring double-Oscar winner Hilary Swank.
In limited release from IFC Films, Lars von Trier's graphic "Antichrist" had a modest debut, pulling in $73,500 in six theaters for a $12,250 average. The movie stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple whose relationship devolves into torture and self-mutilation after the death of their child.
Now that "Paranormal Activity" has a firm grip on audiences, Paramount is toying with the prospects for sequels or prequels.
"Given the success of this and the passion of the online community, I think our guys have got a number of different ideas they're percolating," Moore said. "Once we've gotten to the end of this run, we'll see what other fun we can have with this."