$41.5 Mil 'Paranormal' Scares 'Jackass' From No. 1 at Weekend Box Office

Paramount took a chance on poltergeists and pranksters and ended up ruling the weekend box office.

Paramount's Paranormal Activity 2 had a spooky-good weekend, topping the domestic box office with an estimated $41.5 million in the best debut ever by a horror film.

The tally was at least a third better than prophesized for the haunted-house prequel and beat its franchise predecessor's bow running away. But it was never really a contest, due to the fright pics' vastly different release strategies.

Paranormal Activity opened in September 2009 with $77,873 from just 12 theaters, part of a low-profile launch prior to the micro-budgeted original's wide expansion. A year ago this past weekend, Paranormal topped domestic rankings with a $21 million session en route to an eventual $107.9 million domestic haul.

Paranormal 2 unspooled in 3,216 locations, with most programming midnight Thursday performances as part of a $20 million Friday. The prequel collected more coin during its first weekend than its predecessor rang up in its first four weeks and wiped from the record books a $40.6 million bow by 2009 horror pic Friday the 13th.

Produced for just $3 million, Paranormal 2 relied on a low-wattage cast with location costs limited to a haunted house, while its faux video-camera look skirted pricey lensing. Helmed by Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor), the R-rated pic drew mostly positive reviews from critics and attracted first-day audiences comprised 54% of females, with 61% of patrons under age 25.

"The first Paranormal was like making something out of thin air," Paramount exec vp distribution Don Harris said. "With the prequel, they were able to make a movie that got a stunning number of positive reviews."

The outsize bow by Paranormal 2 -- including $2.5 million from 151 high-grossing Imax specialty venues -- underscores the difficulty in forecasting the market strength of Internet-buzz pictures, especially with second installments in youth-targeting franchises.

Before its launch, some dismissed the solid prerelease interest expressed in tracking surveys and predicted the prequel would flop like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, a disappointing $13.2 million debutante in 2000. But with the Paranormal series suffering no such burn-out, the only question now is how quickly Paramount will scratch up the pocket change required to produce a threequel.

"The company is certainly going to take a look at making a third but will be exceedingly careful in how to go about it," Harris said.

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