michael jackson this is it posterparanormalactivity poster

SUNDAY 8 AM UPDATE: This over-hyped movie ended up being more trick than treat. Sources tell me the domestic numbers for Michael Jackson’s This Is It underperformed even more than Sony expected. And that the concert rehearsal footage pic took in just $20.7M this weekend and only $31.9M for the first five days it opened. Broken down per day, that’s $7.4M Wednesday, $3.7M Thursday, $7.8M Friday, $7.2M Saturday, and an estimated $5.8M for Sunday. But Sony’s official figures, and its overseas total and worldwide number, won’t be available until later Sunday. Meanwhile, Paramount’s Halloween thriller Paranormal Activity made $6M Friday, $6.6M Saturday, and an estimated $4M Sunday for a $16.6M weekend which should bring the low budget film’s cume to around $84.8M. (See chart below for updates. I’ll have a writethru later.)

SATURDAY 3 PM UPDATE: Sony is trying to lower expectations and now says it’s hoping for a $100M five-day total worldwide but would be happy with $90M. “But nobody knows what’s good. We are competing against a ghost,” one of the studio execs just told me.

SATURDAY 11:30 AM: Sony now is predicting $35M domestic and $65M international for a $100M five-day cumulative for Michael Jackson’s This Is It through Sunday.

SATURDAY AM: This is a tough weekend for U.S. moviegoing, especially since Hollywood hasn’t had a Halloween fall on a Saturday since 1998. All the horror and supernatural pics in theaters this weekend — Paramount’s low budget Paranormal Activity which finally expanded into 2,400 runs after 6 weeks in release and keeps frightening the hell out of even adults (see below), Lionsgate’s underperforming holdover Saw VI, the Weinstein Company’s largely ignored reboot Halloween II brought back for its namesake weekend, Magnolia’s new The House Of The Devil, Universal’s week-old and ice cold Cirque Du Freak: The Devil’s Assistant, jackso rehearsal 2Sony’s low yielding The Stepfather, Lars von Trier’s AntiChrist from IFC — will benefit. But not Michael Jackson’s This Is It whose grosses were no more thrilling Friday from 3,481 North American theaters than they were when the Sony pic opened Wednesday amid all that pre-sales hype. (See my previous Disappointing $20.1M Global Bow; Predictions For Just $20+M Domestic Weekend, $-50M Five-Day.) The movie made from 100 hours of Jacko’s high-def concert footage shot for his personal archives before his death — and then ghoulishly scooped up by his concert promoter AEG after his drug-caused demise, and auctioned off to the highest studio bidder, which was Sony — made a paltry $7.4M Wednesday, $3.7M Thursday, and only $7.8M Friday, according to Sony. The North American cume since its opening is $19M. Saturday’s drop should be steep because of Halloween, resulting in probably no more than a $20M weekend and $32.5M cume for the first 5 days. “My $90M all-in number looks like a pipe dream,” one rival studio exec told me after the pic’s weak bow.

jacksonphotos3From the start, this pic’s domestic numbers have been way off what concert promoter AEG and $60M movie rights bidder Sony had hoped for the 2-week limited engagement. That put pressure on foreign sales in the 97 other countries where Halloween had no impact. “We hope the numbers will be good here and even better overseas which is probably the destiny of this pic,” one Sony exec emailed me. “Internationally, Michael Jackson did not have the tabloid pounding he did in the U.S. There, his music stands on its own.” But on Wednesday, even overseas where Michael Jackson is considerably more more popular than here, the pic’s opening was not spectacular: just $12.7 million internationally. Friday night Sony execs were boasting how This Is It is “on target to easily become the biggest worldwide gross for a concert movie ever after only 5 days”. But that’s not saying much. Michael Jackson was a global star, whereas the other concert pics either feature Disney Channel young’uns in artificially short runs, or famous acts in very limited release.

Sony promised “raw and candid detail capturing the singer, dancer, filmmaker, architect, creative genius, and great artist at work as he perfects his final show”. Even people who didn’t like Michael Jackson or his music have said the pic delivers a riveting look at his creative process. Rotten Tomatoes scored the moviey at an impressive 86% positive from top critics. And fans who viewed the movie were posting rave reviews on Fandango, calling it a “Must Go.”

So what went wrong? Sony execs think in this country moviegoers thought all the screenings were already sold-out because of the hoopla surrounding the pre-sales frenzy which the studio itself hyped in the media. And now it looks like only diehard Jacko fans have been turning out for the pic. For instance, Fizziolo.gy (which measures volume and sentiment of entertainment-related chatter on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and more) saw support for This Is It prior to release “not moving outside of that hardcore fan group”. Now Sony has to rely on repeat viewers, which is a tall order for what’s left of the limited engagement.

Of course, it didn’t help that AEG predicted This Is It would make a staggering “$250 million in its first 5 days”. That assumed the worldwide moviegoing public could separate the talent of an artist like Michael Jackson from his shambles of a life. Certainly, U.S. audiences couldn’t. Hollywood was asking before the pic’s release: What’s the difference between a dead Michael Jackson and a dead cow? Answer: the cow can’t be milked. Which is why it was sickening to watch this shameless exploitation of Michael Jackson posthumously.

paranorma activity bedroomAfter starting out its screen life modestly playing only after midnight in a handful of college towns, Paranormal Activity expands its release yet again, adding 400+ screens for around 2,400 theaters for this Halloween weekend. Paramount is patiently waiting for the cumulative of this box office phenom to close in on $100M domestic. (It doesn’t own international.) Everyone now knows this pic’s story… shot in 7 days… with a $15,000 production budget… screened at the horror festival Screamfest in 2007… acquired for a mere $300K. I can report that Paramount so far has spent under $15M total on prints and advertising on the film, or less than 1/2 what it costs to market the average film. Already Paranormal Activity is the most profitable film in modern Paramount history. But the most profitable film ever? Not yet. The studio is denying a claim by at least one error-prone showbiz blog that the low-budget thriller has “exceeded” the No. 1 most profitable film ever, Artisan’s 1999 The Blair Witch Project. “It will still take a pretty good run from here to get there,” Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore told me.

That is not to take anything away from Paranormal Activity, which is the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle success which studio moguls dream about. No gross players. No stars to placate with first-class everything. No name director with final cut to wrestle. No successful screenwriter seeking to set a new script pricetag. Instead, when a Paramount peon asked Paranormal Activity writer/director Oren Peli if he wanted another soda during a press interview, the newbie filmmaker asked, “Are there free refills?” Let’s see if Peli turns into the sui generis of Hollywood assholes for the sequel planned by Paramount which owns the worldwide rights to make it? (I’ll have more on PA later Saturday.)

The rest of the Top 10 were holdovers. (chart below.) Total weekend grosses are expected to hit $85M, which would beat last year by 5% when Halloween fell on a Friday.

1. This Is It (Sony)  New $20.7M Wkd  [3,481 runs]  $32M Cume
2. Paranormal Activity (Paramount)  Week 6 $16.5M Wkd  [2,404]  $82.5M Cume
3. Law Abiding Citizen (Overture)  Week 4 $2.6M Sat [2,764]  $6.7M Wkd
4. Couples Retreat (Universal)  Week 5 $2.2M Sat  [3,026]  $6M Wkd
5. Saw VI (Lionsgate)  $2.0M Sat [3,036] $5M Wkd (-65%)
6. Where The Wild Things Are (WB)  Week 3 $1.6M Sat  [3,645]  $4.8M Wkd
7. The Stepfather (Sony)  $1.1M Fri (-47%) [2,346] $3.5M Wkd
8. Astro Boy (Imagi/Summit)  $997K Fri (-45%) [3,020]  $4M Wkd
9. The Vampire’s Assistant (Uni)  $978K Fri (-56%) [2,754] $3M Wkd
10. Amelia (Fox Searchlight)  $958K Fri (-28%) [1,070] $2.7M Wkd