Fate of ‘Wild Things’ fuzzy as ‘Paranormal’ and ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ shine

October 16, 2009 | Law Abiding Citizen News

Audiences came out to the movies in droves this weekend, sending ticket sales up 41% from last year, but the future of the No. 1 movie is still unclear.

“Where the Wild Things Are” sold a healthy $32.5 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to studio estimates, leading a weekend that saw stronger-than-expected performances from other new and expanding films including “Law Abiding Citizen,” “Paranormal Activity” and “The Stepfather.”

Although $32.5 million is a good start for a movie that cost $80 million after foreign tax incentives, “Wild Things” played to a diverse crowd and didn’t demonstrate particular strength among families. Despite the movie’s PG rating and basis in a popular children’s book, only 40% of ticket buyers were families with children under 12, reflecting the consensus amongst critics that it was too sad for most youngsters. An additional 14% were teenagers, and 43% were adults without children in tow.

That’s a mixed blessing for Warner Bros., which distributed the film and co-financed it with Village Roadshow Entertainment, which paid for 50% of the budget, and Legendary Entertainment, which covered 25%. The older crowds meant “Wild Things” had much stronger midnight shows on its opening day than is usual for a PG movie. But matinees on Saturday and, the studio projected, Sunday weren’t particularly big. Perhaps most important, family movies tend to play for a long time at the box office, as “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” has demonstrated recently.

Audiences gave “Wild Things” an overall grade of B-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore, and those under 18 gave it an A-minus. If the movie ends up with good buzz among families, it could still surpass $100 million in domestic ticket sales and end up a hit, but as Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman said, “It’s going to take another week until we figure it all out.”

There’s nothing to figure out for Paramount, which has a genuine indie hit on its hands with “Paranormal Activity.” The studio expanded its micro-budgeted horror flick to 760 locations and grossed a fantastic $20.2 million. Its per-theater average take of $26,530 is the second-highest ever for a movie playing at fewer than 800 venues, behind only the 3-D concert movie “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds.”

After four weeks, two of which it played only midnight shows in a few cities, “Paranormal” has collected a total of $33.7 million. This Friday it will expand to more than 1,800 locations nationwide, potentially creating problems for Lionsgate’s horror movie “Saw VI,” which launches the same day.

“Paranormal Activity” just missed out on landing at No. 2 for the weekend and came in behind “Law Abiding Citizen.” The thriller distributed by Overture Films for financier the Film Department grossed $21.3 million, a solid start given its $50-million production budget. Despite polling that indicated it would play primarily to older males, audiences were very diverse, giving the movie better-than-expected commercial traction.

Sony Pictures was concerned about the fate of the horror film “The Stepfather,” with “Paranormal Activity” sucking up so much of the oxygen from interest in the genre this weekend, but its film ended up with a decent $12.3 million. The remake from the studio’s Screen Gems label cost just under $20 million to produce.

In limited release, Focus Features’ “A Serious Man” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “An Education” continue to play fairly well as they expanded this weekend, collecting $860,257 at 82 theaters and $266,044 at 19, respectively.

Here are the top 10 films at the domestic box office according to studio estimates and

1. “Where the Wild Things Are” (Warner Bros./Village Roadshow/Legendary): Opened to $32.5 million.

2. “Law Abiding Citizen” (Overture/Film Department): $21.3 million on its first weekend.

3. “Paranormal Activity” (Paramount): Expanded to 760 theaters and grossed $20.2 million, bringing its domestic total to $33.7 million.

4. “Couples Retreat” (Universal/Relativity): Declined 48% on its second weekend to $17.9 million. Total U.S. and Canadian ticket sales so far: $63.3 million.

5. “The Stepfather” (Sony): A $12.3-million debut.

6. “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” (Sony): Fell 30% to $8.1 million. Domestic total: $108.3 million.

7. “Zombieland” (Sony/Relativity): Dropped 47% on its third weekend to $7.8 million, bringing its total domestic gross to $60.8 million.

8. “Toy Story & Toy Story 2 3-D” (Disney): $3 million, off 61% on its third weekend. Total ticket sales thus far for the re-release: $28.6 million..

9. “Surrogates” (Disney): Dropped 55% to $1.9 million on its fourth weekend. Domestic total: $36.3 million.

10. “The Invention of Lying” (Warner Bros./Radar/MRC): $1.9 million, down 43%. $15.5 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales.

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