U comedy sets Oct. record; 'Paranormal' active

Auds looking for laughs found their fix in “Couples Retreat” Friday as the Universal pic raked in $12.3 million, breaking the opening day record for an October live-action comedy. However, those looking to scream sought out Paramount’s limited expansion of indie horror pic “Paranormal Activity” which shook up the multiplex with an unprecedented $2.5 million and a per site of $15,875.

Par jumped the theater count for “Paranormal” to 159 yesterday, sending the pic to fourth place in its third Friday after it generated $532,242 on 33 last weekend in the 19th spot. The amount racked up by “Paranormal” on Friday is unheard of for a film that’s playing in fewer than 200 engagements. One of the last films to gross above $1 million for that theater count range was Disney’s 2006 3-D reissue of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” which made $1.2 million on its first day at 168 venues and $3.3 million for its weekend.

Sony’s pics “Zombieland” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” filed second and third respectively yesterday with $4.8 million and $3.1 million while Disney’s toon double feature “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” ranked fifth with $2 million. “Zombieland” declined 49% at 3,038 for an eight-day domestic cume of $37.6 million while “Meatballs” continued to hold with a wonderful 15% dip and a running cume in its fourth Friday of $87.4 million. “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” slipped 39% on 1,752 for a cume in its second Friday of $17 million.

Shot for $15,000, “Paranormal,” a horror-thriller with a docu angle in the vein of “The Blair Witch Project,” follows a suburban couple whose home is plagued by the supernatural forces of a demon. The current B.O. for “Paranormal” stands at $3.7 million.

The only limited release with a low theater count to ever break past $2 million was Sony’s 2004 drama “Closer” which made $2.8 million in 476 locations – about 300 more than “Paranormal” – and a weekend take of $7.7 million.

Should “Paranormal” hit a three-day figure of $5 million, it would be the biggest weekend haul ever for a film playing in 200 locations or less.

In making “Paranormal” a cult success, the studio incorporated fans into its marketing campaign by giving them a chance to designate where the film should open.

Meanwhile, “Couples” is the first big October comedy bow for Universal since 2000’s “Meet the Parents” which generated $8.4 million on its first day before turning into one of the studio’s biggest B.O. franchises with $845 million worldwide. Being the only studio wide entry yesterday at 3,000 runs also worked in the favor of “Couples” record-breaking success. Previous opening day champ for an October laffer was 2002’s “Jackass: The Movie” which made $9.7 million.

“Couples” reteams Vince Vaughn with his “Swingers” on-screen partner Jon Favreau. Though the two appeared in last year’s “Four Christmases,” “Couples” marks the first time that they have shared writing credits on a project. The film was also co-scribed by Dana Fox whose last script was the Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy “What Happens in Vegas.”

Among Vaughn’s opening days for his comedy credits, “Couples” is his second-best behind 2006’s “The Break-Up” which made $13.9 million on its first day and $39.2 million for its opening weekend. “Couples” should finish its frame in the mid $30 million range.

Vaughn’s highest opening day was 1997’s “Lost World: Jurassic Park” which made $21.6 million.

Following “Paranormal,” Sony Pictures Classics’ New York and Los Angeles release of “An Education” pulled in a per theater of $11,021 or $44,000 at four sites. The drama, which is set in 1960s suburban London, focuses on an affair between a playboy portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard and a teenage girl played by Carey Mulligan. “Education” won the audience and cinematography award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. SPC’s second entry, the Blighty football drama “The Damned United,” counted $9,000 from six sites.

Focus Features’ Coen Brothers dramedy “A Serious Man” saw a 68% gain in its second Friday after increasing its theater count from six to 21 with a Friday take of $123,000 for a per theater of $5,840. Current B.O. for “Serious” stands at an estimated $475,000.

Roadside Attractions unspooled two films, the Chris Rock docu-comedy “Good Hair” about African-American hairstyles which collected an estimated $362,000 off 186 and the pugilist Latin drama “From Mexico With Love” which grossed $113,000 off 279.

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