“Couples Retreat” hits big, damn it + a “Paranormal” windfall

As Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze wrote so long ago, “Let’s face it, I’m wrong again.” Yes, my admittedly halfhearted hunch on Friday, that director Peter Billingsley’s multi-star comedy vehicle, “Couples Retreat,” would be lucky to break double-digits, has been proven to be laughably wrong. Instead, as per Andrew Stewart of Variety, the film grossed a cool estimated $35.3 million for Universal despite the appearance that nobody seemed to have a whole lot of confidence in it.

Couples RetreatIn my own defense, I was working on less second-hand “tracking” info that usual and no one I read ventured a specific guess (jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter apparently took the weekend off). Also, I did indeed note the lack of competition, but I obviously vastly underestimated its import…until an extremely intelligent female friend of mine mentioned to me via Facebook that she’d seen it. True, she didn’t seem to like it — but by then it was too late and I then knew that even seemingly discerning viewers might glom onto it out of a lack of anything else in the same ballpark. Anyhow, it’s great news for the cast, and the grown-up star of “A Christmas Story” turned first-time director who will live to film again, sooner rather than later, probably. Let’s just call this one “Ralphie’s revenge.”

Otherwise, taking a look at the weekend’s estimated chart as supplied by Box Office Mojo will show few surprises, with Sony’s past chart toppers “Zombieland” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” both holding comfortably.  Among the limited releases, “An Education,” a Nick Hornby-penned literary adaptation with some awards potential, did a very healthy estimated $40,000 per screen in four theaters this weekend.

There is one hugely dramatic piece of data, however, and that’s the #5 showing of “Paranormal Activity,” which as you can read in my review, has the power to make even a presumably jaded Hollywood audience act like terrified 11 year-olds. Any sourpuss who tells you that this is all hype — and such sourpusses are already emerging online — certainly wasn’t in the same theater as me and definitely wasn’t feeling the same thing as me.

On the strength of its quickly growing buzz, the three-character video-flick scored a spectacular $44,000 per screen average and an estimated total of $7,066,000 in 159 theaters. (Compare that to the #6 film, “Surrogates,” which grossed $4,115,000 on 2,992 theaters.) I don’t see how Oren Peli’s thumpingly scary debut doesn’t emerge as one the year’s biggest hits and definitely its most profitable production; the mock-documentary supernatural horror tale’s original budget of $11,000 was exactly one-fourth of its per-screen take this weekend. Whoever dines with Oren Peli may now order the lobster, and whoever decided to pick this one up for Paramount can definitely sleep well at night.

Paranormal Activity

  

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