Paramount's upstart chiller "Paranormal Activity" went into nationwide release and took over the No. 1 spot with $22 million. That compares to just $14.8 million for the debut of "Saw VI," a franchise that has been an annual fixture before the October Halloween holiday since 2004.
It was the worst opening ever for Lionsgate's "Saw" series, whose previous low was $18.3 million for the original movie. Subsequent installments of the "Saw" franchise all opened at $30 million or better.
This time, horror fans simply gravitated toward "Paranormal Activity" instead of "Saw VI."
"`Paranormal' ate their lunch," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "There's no other way to explain it."
After four weeks in narrower release, Paramount slotted "Paranormal Activity" into 1,945 theaters. That still was just under two-thirds of the 3,036 theater count for "Saw VI."
"Paranormal Activity" raised its total haul to $62.5 million. The low-budget movie was shot for a reported $15,000 but has become a horror sensation because of online fan buzz. The fictional movie unfolds like a homemade documentary as a couple copes with apparitions and supernatural phenomena in their home.
It has a strong shot at topping $100 million, something none of the "Saw" movies ever managed. While "Saw," the grisly saga of a puppetmaster putting victims through savage moral tests, was embraced as a fresh twist by horror fans five years ago, it now is part of the Hollywood establishment compared to "Paranormal Activity."
"There's no question `Paranormal' offered a fresh alternative," said Rob Moore, Paramount vice chairman. "This movie definitely has achieved a place in our culture right now."
The overall box office declined, with Hollywood revenues totaling $121 million, down 9 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" debuted with $42 million and "Saw V" opened with $30.1 million.
The box-office should get a jolt over Halloween as "Paranormal Activity" expands to as many as 2,500 theaters and Sony's "Michael Jackson: This Is It" heads into its first weekend after debuting late Tuesday night.
The previous weekend's No. 1 movie, the Warner Bros. tale "Where the Wild Things Are," fell to No. 3, just behind "Saw VI" with $14.4 million. Spike Jonze's adaptation of the beloved children's book by Maurice Sendak raised its total to $54 million.
Among other wide releases, Summit Entertainment's "Astro Boy" opened at No. 6 with $7 million, Universal's "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" debuted at No. 8 with $6.3 million, and Fox Searchlight's "Amelia" premiered at No. 11 with $4 million.
"Astro Boy" features the voices of Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell and Nicolas Cage in a sci-fi adventure based on the Japanese comic book and cartoon series about a superhero child robot. "Vampire's Assistant" stars John C. Reilly as a centuries-old bloodsucker who takes on a teenage apprentice in a traveling freak show. "Amelia" is a film biography of pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart starring double-Oscar winner Hilary Swank.
In limited release from IFC Films, Lars von Trier's graphic "Antichrist" had a modest debut, pulling in $73,500 in six theaters for a $12,250 average. The movie stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple whose relationship devolves into torture and self-mutilation after the death of their child.
Now that "Paranormal Activity" has a firm grip on audiences, Paramount is toying with the prospects for sequels or prequels.
"Given the success of this and the passion of the online community, I think our guys have got a number of different ideas they're percolating," Moore said. "Once we've gotten to the end of this run, we'll see what other fun we can have with this."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Paranormal Activity," $22 million.
2. "Saw VI," $14.8 million.
3. "Where the Wild Things Are," $14.4 million.
4. "Law Abiding Citizen," $12.7 million.
5. "Couples Retreat," $11.1 million.
6. "Astro Boy," $7 million.
7. "The Stepfather," $6.5 million.
8. "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant," $6.3 million.
9. "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," $5.6 million.
10. "Zombieland," $4.3 million.