'Paranormal Activity' tops boxoffice

Film beats 'Saw VI' with a $22 million weekend haul

ORLANDO -- "Paranormal Activity" won the weekend's frightfest smackdown.

Paramount's micro-budgeted ghost story topped the domestic boxoffice with an estimated $22 million from its second weekend in wide release as Lionsgate's gore-filled sequel "Saw VI" settled for a tarnished silver medal in a disappointing $14.8 million domestic debut. Warner Bros.' fantasy "Where the Wild Things Are" finished third with $14.4 million, dropping 56% from its chart-topping bow of a week earlier for a 10-day cume of $54 million.

Three other wide openers marked soft sessions:

The Summit-distributed animated feature "Astro Boy" rung up just $7 million in a drab sixth-place launch.

Universal's John C. Reilly-toplined "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" circled $6.3 million in eighth, also bowing well below pre-release expectations.

Fox Searchlight's Hilary Swank starrer "Amelia" landed outside the top 10 with $4 million from a barely wide 818 playdates.

Overture Films' crime thriller "Law Abiding Citizen" fell just 40% from its opening frame to register $12.7 million in fourth place and a $40.3 million cume. Universal's ensemble comedy "Couples Retreat" was fifth with $11.1 million and a $78.2 million cume through three weekends, while Sony's horror thriller "The Stepfather" dipped 44% in its sophomore session to $6.5 million in seventh place with a $20.4 million cume.

Collectively, the weekend's top 10 films rung up $105 million, or 10% less than top performances in the comparable frame last year.

But the downtick is unlikely to mar the upbeat mood of exhibitors arriving here for Monday's start of the four-day ShowEast confab. The industry has proven true to its recession-resistant rep this year, tracking 5% ahead of 2008 on a year-to-date basis.

Among the weekend's limited bows, IFC Films unspooled the Lars von Trier-directed "Antichrist" with solo playdates in six cities and grossed $73,500. That gave the controversially violent drama an encouraging $12,500 per engagement.

IDP/Samuel Goldwyn's comedy "(Untitled)" opened with $19,145 from two L.A.-area locations and one in New York for an auspicious $6,182 per site.

Freestyle Releasing debuted the comedy "Motherhood" -- starring Uma Thurman and Minnie Driver -- in 47 theaters and grossed $57,754, or just $1, 203 per venue.

Disney launched its annual re-release of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D" in 105 locations and grossed $131,000, or a ho-hum $1,245 per site.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Sony Pictures Classics' British drama "An Education" added 12 playdates for a total of 31 and grossed $408,002, or a smart $13,161 per engagement. Cume climbed to $980,896.

Elephant Eye's Chilean drama "The Maid" added five theaters for a total of six and grossed $44,080. That translated into a pleasing $7,346 per venue for the Spanish-language pic and pushed cume to $70,162.

Par's aggressive expansion of "Paranormal" the past two weekends -- after earlier sessions in limited release --- put the virally marketed film on a collision course with Lionsgate's rival horror pic.

Audience overlap may have kept "Paranormal" from reaching even a bit higher as some had projected a $25 million-plus haul for its latest session. But the film's topping weekend rankings seems to validate Par's adding almost 1,200 engagements to exploit the film's momentum. The stellar performance had studio execs Sunday talking about the posibility of a "Paranormal" sequel.

Now toting a $62.5 million cume, the R-rated "Paranormal" has played best with younger females.

The similarly rated "Saw VI" sequel dramatically underperformed the blood-drenched franchise's first four sequels, which each debuted with $30 million-plus. Its audiences skewed urban, comprised 48% of Latino patrons and 25% of blacks; some 67% of support came from moviegoers under age 25 and 52% from males.

"The opening was definitely below industry expectations, but 'Saw' is still the highest-grossing horror franchise in history," Lionsgate exec vp distribution David Spitz said.

Lionsgate plans to release "Saw VII" in 3D in October 2010.

Featuring manga-style animation, "Astro Boy" was produced by Imagi Studios for an estimated $65 million. The PG-rated pic is based on a classic kids character and TV show but failed to connect sufficiently with its target audience of young boys and their dads.

"While all had hoped for a stronger opening for the film this weekend, it was well-received from those adults and families that have seen it," Summit distribution president Richie Fay said.

"Cirque du Freak" drew audiences skewing 51% female, with 53% of patrons under age 25.

"Although we're disappointed, the film produced for a modest budget," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "So it's a modest underperformance."

Co-financed by Relativity Media, "Cirque du Freak" was produced for an estimated $40 million.

"Amelia" opened well enough for Searchlight to pencil in an expansion north of 1,000 locations for Friday.

"We're very happy," Searchlight vp distribution Richard Shamban said. "It's very female-oriented, and these kind of films tend to stay in the market a long time. So we think we're off to a very good start."

"Amelia" drew older-skewing audiences comprised 60% of females.

Looking ahead, just one new wide release hits theaters this week, but it's a biggie: Sony's music-filled Michael Jackson documentary, "This Is It." Advance ticketing has been going hot as Sony heated pre-release interested by slotting the release for a two-week-only theatrical run.