Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones battles

Horror sequel could topple 'Hobbit,' 'Frozen' as 2014 box office kicks off

The fifth edition of Paramount’s formidable “Paranormal Activity” series may scare off Warner Bros.’ bid for a four-peat this weekend with “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”

Early tracking shows “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” taking in around $15 million this weekend at approximately 2,800 locations — though some estimates place “The Marked Ones” closer to $20 million, where it would likely battle “Smaug” and Disney’s “Frozen” for the top slot.

“Frozen” led the way on New Year’s Day Wednesday with $8.7 million for a six-week total of $271.9 million, followed by “Smaug” with $7.8 million for $209.3 million in 20 days.

“The Marked Ones,” an offshoot of the franchise with new characters, will start showings at 10 p.m. Thursday in about 2,000 locations. The film’s budget is $5 million and producers are low-budget specialists Jason Blum and Oren Peli with Christopher Landon writing and directing.

Revolving around two Hispanic teenagers from Oxnard, Calif. (Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz) “The Marked Ones” is aimed to appeal to the Hispanic demo, the most frequent U.S. moviegoing demo. The story explores the effects ‎of demonic possession and the cultural history of black magic rituals.

“The Marked Ones” is the only wide opener in the new year’s first weekend, which has become a launch slot for horror films with Lionsgate’s “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” Par’s “The Devil Inside” and Relativity’s “Season of the Witch” all opening during the past three years. “The Devil Inside” was the best of the bunch with a $38 million launch frame in 2012.

It’s also the first time that a “Paranormal Activity” film has ventured outside an October release but “The Marked Ones” should benefit from the widely-recognized title. The “Paranormal Activity” films have grossed more than $700 million worldwide with “Paranormal Activity 4″ taking in the smallest total at $142 million worldwide.

The fourth installment was also made for $5 million. Even with marketing costs, the films are reliable profitmakers for Paramount.

A pair of Paramount holdovers should take in respectable coin over the weekend with “The Wolf Of Wall Street” in its second weekend and “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” in its third frame. The Martin Scorsese drama has nabbed $47.1 million in its first eight days while the comedy sequel has topped $95 million.

Sony’s fourth weekend of “American Hustle” will also remain a draw after grossing $73 million in three weeks.

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