SUNDAY AM, 6TH UPDATE: Hollywood’s scary 3 months of slumping North American box office is officially over — appropriately enough at the start of Halloweek. In fact Paranormal Activity 3 (which cost only $5M) recorded the biggest horror opening of all time and the biggest October debut this weekend not adjusted for inflation or ticket pricing, according to Paramount. Its worldwide cume is now $80M. For decades, studios have had to spend more and more to keep their big franchises aloft. Not the Paranormal Activity series, and in this economic climate that’s become a very attractive model for the studios.

1. Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 3 as predicted is setting a franchise best with what rival studios say is $54M for the weekend after opening to $26.2M Friday and $18.2 Saturday in 3,321 theaters. So kudos to Oren Peli and Jason Blum who returned to produce the small-budget big-secret feature. True, audiences gave it only a ‘C+’ CinemaScore. Then again how many horror films are well-reviewed enough to receive 80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with raves from Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly? “Our usual crowd of older teens and 20 year olds were joined by a big increase in folks in their 30s and 40s where the great reviews really helped,” a Paramount exec told me Sunday morning. Of course, there was a -30% drop from Friday to Saturday. (PA2 dropped -35%.) That’s because PA3 took in $8M midnights from 2,200 U.S. locations overnight Thursday which was +30% higher than the sequel Paranormal Activity 2 which earned $6.3M from 1,800 locations. Pre-release, Paramount was lowballing the threequel to gross at least $35M in domestic box office. But PA2 made $40.6M its 2010 pre-Halloween weekend, then competitor Saw 3D debuted the following Friday. PA3 has no such rival this time around. So Hollywood knew it would make a lot more money.

PA3 is a game-changer since the track record in the U.S. for almost all franchises is that the sequel opens bigger than the first but then the threequel opens slightly lower than the second. Paranormal Activity 3‘s strong tracking for weeks showed wannasee not just with young males but also with older moviegoers. Exit polls showed that moviegoers were 46% male vs 54% female, 53% under age 25 vs 47% over age 25. So no surprise this bloodless thriller broke Hollywood’s 3-month-long box office slump this weekend. Not since Fox’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes ($54.8M) on August 5th has there been a big grossing domestic opener beyond $30.1M (Disney’s Lion King 3D). PA3 cost only $5M, making the low-budget high-grossing franchise “the gift that keeps on giving,” as a studio exec tells me. (PA1 did $108M/$85M foreign, while PA2 did $85M in the U.S. and $93M foreign.)

I remember the marketing strategy for the first Paranormal Activity: midnight screenings in a few college towns, build word of mouth over several weeks, then slowly open it across the country. Now the 3rd in the franchise gets a wide release from the get-go. “We always market this franchise in a very specific way- we try to stay true to the fanbase,” A Paramount exec tells me. “We don’t betray the conceit that the footage is real, and we rely on core fans to spread the word by doing playful stunts and allowing them to see it first.” Paramount highlighted its Thursday midnight opening in all its media. The trailer launched with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes on August 5th – just 2 months before release, which is kinda late. The TV campaign consisted of lots of cable and very little network as well as the highest percentage of online of any movie Paramount has ever handled. ”We spend half of what most other wide releases spend in P&A and continue to let fan buzz propel release,” a Paramount exec boasted. Then again, I have to laugh at what Ariel Schulman, who directed with Henry Joost, said about how they got the PA3 gig. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of that studio meeting: ”Catfish had a lot to do with it. Paramount were big fans and we had been on their radar. When we first interviewed with the president of Paramount, he actually said, “If you tell me right now that Catfish is fake, you’ve got the job.” And we just went real silent. And then I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that.” Because it was real. I think he figured that if we could create that authenticity dramatically, then we could do it again for this. Ultimately, we convinced them of exactly that. Catfish is completely real, but I think we have a knack for identifying the authentic moments in home video, and it plays like a narrative.”

Internationally, Paranormal Activity 3 scored $26M overseas from some 50 countries. Cumes were way up from PA2 often posting double-digit increases. UK opened with $5.7M, Australia $3.2M, Russia $2.9M, France $2.8M, and Mexico $2M. Germany, Japan and 6 other territories are left to open. To pump up global grosses, Paramount indulged in a global stunt: the first-ever worldwide tweet-to-see-it-first contest. There were 20 round-the-world fan premieres in 8 countries after a contest based on the most Twitter activity. Out of 250 cities, the winners included Melbourne, Tel Aviv, London, Sao Paulo, New York, and Hollywood’s Arclight, where thousands of fans turned out for gourmet food trucks and franchise star Katie Featherston.

2. DreamWorks/Disney’s Real Steal reeled in $3M Friday and $4.9M Saturday from 3,412 theaters at the start of its 3rd week in release. There was another nice family matinee bounce on Saturday settting up a $10.9M weekend (-33% drop from a week ago) and $67M cume. So the pic moved into second place ahead of Footloose. But DreamWorks can’t get what it needed on this film: a $125M domestic hit.

3. After a disappointing start last weekend, the Footloose reboot is having strong one-week hold for $3.4M Friday and $4.5m Saturday driven by word of mouth and its ‘A’ CinemaScore. Footloose is looking for an estimated $10.5M for the weekend (-33% from a week ago) with a $30M cume by Monday.

4. Summit Entertainment is distributing newcomer Three Musketeers 3D financed and produced by Constantin Film. Starring Milla Jovovich and Orlando Bloom, pic already opened in other parts of the world with an anemic international cume to date of $48.2M. A total of 23 additional foreign territories opened this past weekend, to bring the total to 40 currently in release including North America. But what has to be the 113th rendition of this pathetically played-out premise couldn’t make a box office dent even with (or because of, depending on your POV) Paul W.S. Anderson directing. It opened with only $2.9M Friday and $3.6M Saturday in 3,017 theaters for a weak $8.8M weekend. That’s well below Summit’s pre-release estimate of low teens. I’m told the West Coast didn’t hold up despite audiences giving it a ‘B’ CinemaScore. The film was tracking strongest with older male moviegoers and to reach them Summit focused the media spend on male-oriented programming with a concentration on sports. Constantin held a worldwide press junket in London completed with set-up shots for media outlets in front of The Tower of London, which stars in the film. Orlando Bloom (he’s still acting?) was booked for North American talk show appearances. There also was a promotion tie-in with leading TV maker Viszio.

Perhaps the most interesting marketing ploy was debuted on Friday by Milla Jovovich herself when she took to Twitter to bitchslap Summit over the promotion for Three Musketeers 3D. Jovovich texted that the film wasn’t marketed as a “fun family film” and that Summit is “resting on their laurels” because of the Twilight franchise and “making no effort” for her film. A sample: “3 musketeers” opens in the US 2night! Do you think ppl know abt the movie? Ask your friends! Do they know it’s a fun family film?… Summit hve swept “3 Musketeers”, a grt family adventure film, under the rug in the US. Shame on them. SHAME ON YOU “SUMMIT”. I asked Summit last night what it thought of Milla’s accusations, and an executive pointed out that the actress had been up in Canada shooting the next Resident Evil installment ”and probably didn’t see the campaign. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about and we don’t know where she’s coming from.” On the other hand, Jovovich is married to Three Musketeers 3D director Anderson, so it’s hard to imagine she is completely clueless to how Summit marketed the film. Nevertheless, Summit points to awareness in the 80s as a sure sign that the movie was marketed adequately. ”Wouldn’t you think she would call us first about this? It’s frustrating. it’s not the right way to behave. If she has a problem then come to the studio and talk about it.” Milla was tweeting on her flight to Japan where Three Musketeers 3D is debuting at the Tokyo International Film Festival. I wonder if Summit will cancel her car pickup and strand her at the airport for mouthing off.

5. Sony Pictures’ adult political thriller from George Clooney, Ides Of March, holds well again for $1.5M Fridayand $2.4M Saturday from 2,042 theaters at the start of its 3rd week in release and a weekend around $5.1M (-28%) for a $29M cume.

6. Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros’ Dolphin Tale 3D stays afloat for $1.2M Friday and $2.1M Saturday from 2,858 theaters at the start of its 5th week in release and an estimated $4.7M weekend rising to 6th place for a $65M cume.

7. Sony Pictures’ Moneyball has another great hold for $1.3M Friday and 41.9M Saturday from 2,353 theaters at the start of its 5th week in release and a $4.4M weekend with $64M cume.

8. Universal’s low-budget Johnny English Reborn (1,551 theaters) opened just $1.1M for Friday and $1.4m Saturday despite audiences giving it a ‘B’ CinemaScore. That translated to a poor $4M opening for the weekend. But the studio opened this Working Title pic internationally back on September 16th and the foreign gross has reflected star Rowan Atkinson’s enormous popularity overseas. This weekend, the film is poised to reach $100 million at the international box office. It opened No. 1 in almost all of the 43 international markets where it’s been released and, with 20 international territories yet to open, it’s well on its way to grossing $200 million or more worldwide. The film opens in 6 more international markets this weekend, including France. Does the U.S. marketing plan really matter? Nah…


9. Not even Halloweek could help Universal’s horror holdover The Thing prequel which went down -59% from a week ago for $1M Friday and $1.3M Saturday from 2,995 theaters and a $3.1M weekend for $14M cume.

10. Summit’s 50/50 dramedy hangs in the Top 10 for $927K Friday and $1.3M Saturday from 1,932 theaters at the start of its 4th week in release and a $2.9M weekend with just under $29M cume by Monday.

FRIDAY NOON UPDATE: Unfortunately, Rentrak is unable to download any grosses thus far today, so there will not be any estimates based on noon averages.

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.