Third in franchise scares competish with $54 mil

Scoring the highest U.S. opening for a horror film as well as an October record high, Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity 3″ injected some much-needed life into a blah domestic B.O. with an estimated $54 million domestic opening, also outdoing previous installments in most overseas markets for an international debut estimated at $26 million.

“Paranormal 3″ wasn’t expected to land much higher than $40 million domestically. The pic’s success underscores the fickleness of B.O. tracking services and also suggests a broadening appeal for the low-budgeted franchise.

The threequel is fast approaching profitability, given the film’s reported $5 million budget and a lower-than-usual marketing spend from the studio.

Par vice chairman Rob Moore told Variety that the studio’s marketing commitment for “Paranormal 3″ primarily consisted of a grassroots campaign similar to that for the second “Paranormal.”

“We spent half of what we typically do for major wide releases like this,” Moore said.

The weekend’s other wide releases — Summit’s “The Three Musketeers,” from Constantin Films, and Universal’s “Johnny English Reborn” — both debuted below expectations. “Musketeers” bowed to an estimated $8.8 million; “Reborn” tallied $3.8 million through Sunday.

Neither pic is relying on U.S. returns to recoup: The “Johnny English” sequel, grossing an additional $13.5 million, passed the $100 million mark in overseas grosses, while “Musketeers” has cumed just north of $64 million internationally, with this weekend’s reported take at $13.1 million.

Though the “Paranormal 3″ opening outstripped “Paranormal 2’s” bow by more than $10 million in the U.S., the domestic frame was down roughly 3%-5% from the comparable 2010 weekend, when “Paranormal 2″ debuted alongside high-flying holdovers like “Jackass 3D” and “Red.” “Paranormal 2″ and “Jackass” held the previous industry records for the best horror and October debuts.

B.O. optimists are examining the weekend through a different lens — grosses were up a notable 41% over last weekend.

At the specialty B.O., Fox Searchlight’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene” debuted with a stellar $34,385 per-screen average from four locations in New York, and L.A. Searchlight plans to add 10 more markets this week.

Sony Pictures Classics, meanwhile, saw a solid second-week expansion of Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In,” which averaged $12,436 from 21 engagements, up from six last weekend. Pic has cumed $569,335 domestically, better than SPC’s “Take Shelter,” which has grossed $522,798 in four weeks.

Also doing well in limited release, Roadside Attractions’ Wall Street-themed thriller “Margin Call” earned an estimated weekend take of $582,400 at 56 locations thanks partly to publicity surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement. Pic, which scored a per-screen average of $10,400, broke the house record at New York’s Elinor Bunin Film Center, where it grossed $32,750 after three days.

Scaring diverse demos

Par reported that “Paranormal Activity 3″ earned 47% of its opening from over-25 auds, up vs. the last “Paranormal,” which bowed with just 40% of its total from adult moviegoers.

Increased turnout among auds over 25 meant “Paranormal 3″ saw a slight downturn in under-25 turnout, the core demo for horror pics. Moore said better-than-usual reviews (73% fresh on RottenTomatoes) for the pic could be the reason for the increased popularity among adult auds.

The film’s broader turnout of over-25 auds is even more significant considering exit polling is done Friday night and adult filmgoers tend to avoid opening night.

Par also expended considerable effort in marketing “Paranormal Activity 3″ as a midnight event. The move paid off, with the film earning $8 million in midnight grosses, 30% up on “Paranormal 2.” “We very much promoted the film opening Thursday at midnight,” Moore said. “It was, after all, when the franchise was born.”

The most recent “Paranormal,” with a C+ CinemaScore rating, didn’t fare as well with opening auds as the last installment, which garnered a B grade.

The film’s top overseas market was the U.K., which contributed $5.8 million since the film’s Friday launch. Australia came in second with $3.2 million (21% better than “Paranormal 2″), followed by series bests in Russia and France, grossing $2.9 million and $2.8 million, respectively.

Pics buoyed offshore

International grosses for “Johnny English Reborn” and “The Three Musketeers” are expected to make up the lion’s share of their worldwide tally.

The weekend’s North American gross for “Reborn” saw a higher-than-usual 22% share come from Canada, which normally contributes only around 8% of a film’s opening domestic gross.

“Fortunately, this film continues to play very strong outside of the U.S.,” said U domestic distribution prexy Nikki Rocco.

Budgeted at around $45 million, “Reborn” scored a B CinemaScore rating with U.S. auds, as did “Musketeers.”

U said it expects “Reborn” to land between $185 million and $200 million internationally, which would easily surpass the original at $133 million. But domestically, the 2003 pic did better, with an opening of $9 million and a cume of $28 million. That’s an unlikely domestic benchmark for “Reborn.”

“Musketeers,” meanwhile, saw a meager 3D performance, with the format contributing 55% of the domestic opening from 80% (or 2,400) of the total locations (3,017). With a heavily adult-skewing demo at 64%, it’s not likely that the PG-13-rated film saw a significant family base, especially not in 3D.

Launching at an expansive 975 Stateside runs, Quaker Media’s inspirational pic “The Mighty Macs” scored a so-so $1.1 million, which averaged just $1,090 per screen. Movie was meant to capitalize on the promising faith-based market but lacked studio marketing muscle behind pics like “Courageous.”

In a more traditional platform release, docu “Revenge of the Electric Car,” from micro-distrib Area 23a, earned a fine $8,986 per-screen average from two playdates, while Cohen Media Group’s historical drama “Oranges and Sunshine,” starring Emily Watson, averaged $4,651 per screen from four.

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