(EW.com) -- First the good news: Paramount's $5 million found footage horror sequel "Paranormal Activity 4" easily led the box office with $30.2 million in its first three days.
Now for the bad news: That's 43 percent less (i.e. $22.4 million less) than "Paranormal Activity 3" earned in its debut frame, and 26 percent less ($10.5 million) than "Paranormal Activity 2" managed.
Fortunately for Paramount, the tiny cost of the Paranormal films still make them highly profitable, but the sharp drop off from "PA3" to "PA4" could spell trouble for the franchise. "Paranormal Activity 4," which received a "C" CinemaScore grade from polled audiences, has received the worst reviews of any entry in the series, yet Paramount chose to open it earlier than its predecessors. The film was released on Thursday night at 9 p.m. — "PA2" and "PA3" opened at midnight — and perhaps negative word-of-mouth spread faster and earlier, thus limiting its weekend prospects. Also making matters difficult was direct competition from Sinister, the similarly themed horror title that opened to $18 million last weekend.
One thing is certain: "Paranormal Activity 4" is going to have a front-loaded run. The picture fell by a whopping 38 percent from Friday ($15.1 million) to Saturday ($9.4 million) — never a sign of box office longevity. Furthermore, horror movies — and especially horror sequels — are typically some of the most front-loaded films of any genre due to young audiences (60 percent of PA4's audience was below the age of 25), who rush to the theater on opening weekend. "PA2" and "PA3" each finished with about twice as much as they earned on opening weekend, grossing $84.8 and $104 million respectively, but "PA4" will be lucky to score $60 million total.
Still, this isn't a shameful result — the film only cost $5 million, and its $8,851 per theater average was the best in the Top 20 — but it's certainly an underwhelming one.
If "Paranormal Activity 4's" box office take felt less than impressive, "Argo's" sophomore frame seemed just the opposite. Warner Bros.' $45 million Ben Affleck-directed spy thriller dropped only 15 percent in its second weekend to $16.6 million, thereby lifting its total to $43.2 million after 10 days. The Oscar front-runner, which earned an amazing "A+" CinemaScore grade last weekend, has a decent shot at breaking $100 million at the domestic box office if it can keep scoring remarkable holds like this one.
Third place went to "Hotel Transylvania," which is demonstrating impressive staying power as Halloween approaches. Sony's $85 million kiddie flick dropped 22 percent this weekend to $13.5 million, giving the film a terrific $119 million total. In just a few days, "Hotel" will become the young Sony Pictures Animation's most successful film ever domestically, surpassing "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs'" $124.9 million gross.
In fourth, "Taken 2" dropped by 39 percent (a better hold than last weekend's 56 percent decline) to $13.4 million. After 17 days, Fox's Liam Neeson vehicle has grossed an impressive $106 million, and although it appears likely that Taken 2 will fall a bit short of the $145 million domestic finish that the original "Taken" earned domestically, Fox certainly isn't worried. The studio spent just $45 million on the film, and it is a hit around the world — it took two weeks to outgross its predecessor overseas and has now grossed $240.9 million globally — and talks have reportedly already begun for "Taken 3."
Summit's Alex Cross fared badly in fifth place. The thriller, which stars the oft-cross-dressing Madea-director Tyler Perry in the title role, grossed $11.8 million, the worst debut ever for a film starring Perry and the worst debut ever in the Alex Cross series. Morgan Freeman formerly played the action star, based on a popular character in James Patterson's series of novels, in 1997′s "Kiss the Girls" and 2001′s "Along Came A Spider," which opened with $13.2 million and $16.7 million, respectively. Alex Cross, which cost Summit and QED Entertainment about $23 million to make, played to a typical Tyler Perry crowd. Audiences were 60 percent female, 68 percent above the age of 35, and 74 percent African-American, and although relatively few people saw the film, those that did liked what they saw, issuing it an "A" CinemaScore grade. Maybe if the film had been called Tyler Perry's Alex Cross, it could have started a bit better.
1. Paranormal Activity 4 -- $30.2 million
2. Argo -- $16.6 million
3. Hotel Transylvania -- $13.5 million
4. Taken 2 -- $13.4 million
5. Alex Cross -- $11.8 million
Two more box office shout-outs. "Looper" has quietly grown into a solid mid-level hit. After four weekends, the TriStar sci-fi thriller has earned $57.8 million and it will pass $60 million this week. Meanwhile, Oscar contender "The Sessions" opened successfully in limited release in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, taking in $121,000 from four theaters, giving it an impressive $30,250 per theater average. The film will add nine theaters to its run next weekend.
Check back next week for full box office coverage of "Chasing Mavericks," "Fun Size," "Cloud Atlas," and "Silent Hill 2," and follow me on Twitter for more box office analysis and up-to-the-minute updates!
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