Death took a holiday from the Paranormal Activity franchise. For the first time in four pre-Halloween haunt-jaunts, the series did not meet expectations, with Paranormal Activity 4 taking in $30.2 million, according to preliminary studio estimates. The weekend’s other wide release, the serial-killer thriller Alex Cross, grossed a mild $11.75 million, while Ben Affleck’s Oscar-bound Argo held strong in second place with $16.6 million.
PA4 easily won the weekend at North American theaters, but with a surprisingly meager amount — far below the $40.7 million scared up in 2010 by PA2 and the sensational $52.6 million for PA3 last October. Returning the writer and directors of the third entry, PA4 endured tepid reviews and a libelous CinemaScore of C, which a college student’s parents would call an F. The first-weekend audience, 60% of which was under 25, was split equally between males and females.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Paranormal Activity 4)
Paramount, the films’ distributor, will shrug off the ugly word of mouth and keep the profits, thanks — which are considerable, given the $5 million budget. “There can be softness that happens in the domestic marketplace with sequels, “Megan Colligan, the studio’s president of domestic distribution, told The Wrap, “but a little bit of softening here is mitigated by a growing marketplace internationally.” Colligan must be thinking of the Resident Evil franchise, whose last two episodes have earned more than 80% of their worldwide revenue abroad. If PA4, which amassed $26.5 million in 33 foreign territories this weekend, can push up its numbers overseas, the series could remain a cash corpse for years to come.
(READ: Corliss on the Resident Evil franchise)
Alex Cross, the psychologist-sleuth hero of 18 James Patterson novels, was played by Morgan Freeman in the 1997 Kiss the Girls and the 2001 Along Came a Spider. Perry, the writer, director and drag-queen star of the Christian-themed Madea comedy-dramas, might be the busiest and richest African-American movie figure, but he proved an odd fit for Cross, who this time fights a serial killer known as The Butcher (Matthew Fox). The villain might as well have been another psycho-genius from the Patterson books: the Audience Killer. Alex Cross suffered the lowest opening of any Perry film, attracting remnants of his Madea audience — 74% of the first-weekend attendees were black, 68% over 35 — but few other patrons.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Alex Cross)
Those who went, liked: the film, directed by franchise feeder Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, the third of Brendan Fraser’s Mummy movies), pulled a rosy “A” rating on CinemaScore. Whether that translates into enough business to push the $23-million production into profit, or to extend the series, is the one mystery that remains to be solved.
The two big openings may have generated disappointing returns, but the holdovers showed great legs. Argo dropped less than 15% from its opening weekend tally, staying in second place and mimicking the strong holds of previous early-autumn releases, The Departed and The Social Network, that hung around to contend for (or, the the case of The Departed, win) the race for the Best-Picture Oscar. In its fourth week, Hotel Transylvania, the animated comedy with the voices of Adam Sandler and his gang, slipped just 22% and is nearing $120 million. Taken 2, with Liam Neeson in another cage match with the kidnappers of his family, crossed the $100-million mark in its third week. Add the $135 million it has earned abroad, and the sequel has nearly equaled the $245 million the first film grossed in its entire run.
In indie debuts, The Sessions, the Oscar-touted drama about a polio-afflicted virgin (John Hawkes) and his designated sex surrogate (Helen Hunt), totted a promising $121,000 in four theaters. That take was far above the modest returns for three films opening on two screens each: the black-kids-play-chess doc Brooklyn Castle ($22,100), the dreamy French experiment Holy Motors ($19,500) and the sex-minded comedy-drama Nobody Walks (7,500).
Among indie-minded holdovers, Seven Psychopaths filched $3.3 million in 1,480 theaters, for 11th place this weekend and a $9.2-million cume in 10 days, while The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in half as many venues, came in 12th with $2.15 million and a $9.1-million total in its fourth week. Emma Watson and her high-school rejects could prove to be the movie year’s most popular nerds.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Paranormal Activity 4, $30.2 million, first weekend
2. Argo, $16.6 million; $43.2 million, second week
3. Hotel Transylvania, $13.5 million; $119 million, fourth week
4. Taken 2, $13.4 million; $106 million, third week
5. Alex Cross, $11.75 million, first weekend
6. Sinister, $9 million; $31.95 million, second week
7. Here Comes the Boom, $8.5 million; $23.2 million, second week
8. Pitch Perfect, $7 million; $45.8 million, fourth week
9. Frankenweenie, $4.4 million; $28.3 million, third week
10. Looper, $4.2 million; $57.8 million, fourth week