Scary movie fans are still into "Paranormal Activity," though the horror franchise looks as though it's starting to run out of steam at the box office.
Paramount's "Paranormal Activity 4" debuted at No. 1 with $30.2 million, a big drop from the $40 million and $50 million opening weekends of the last two installments, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Perpetual hit maker Tyler Perry failed to find an audience for his new persona as ace crime solver. Summit Entertainment's "Alex Cross," starring Perry as author James Patterson's brilliant criminal profiler, was a dud, opening at No. 5 with $11.8 million.
Perry has written, directed and starred in a string of hits featuring his sassy grandma Madea, which mostly have had opening weekends two and three times bigger than that of "Alex Cross." Fans didn't buy into Perry as Cross as the police detective goes up against a diabolical serial killer.
"He's become so identified and so successful with the Madea franchise that when he steps outside of that, it doesn't necessarily follow that the audience is going along with him," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "It's fun for him to stretch out a little bit, but it didn't really pay off."
Ben Affleck's Iran hostage tale "Argo" held up well in its second weekend, remaining at No. 2 with $16.6 million, dropping just 15 percent from its debut. Big studio releases often drop 50 percent or more in subsequent weekends, but "Argo" has proven a hit with critics and audiences alike, earning Academy Awards buzz and strong word of mouth that should give it a long run at theaters.
Affleck, who also directed "Argo," plays a CIA specialist who concocts a wild plan to rescue six Americans hiding in Tehran after the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy there.
Released by Warner Bros., "Argo" raised its domestic total to $43.2 million.
Liam Neeson's action sequel "Taken 2," which had been No. 1 the previous two weekends, slipped to fourth-place with $13.4 million, lifting the 20th Century Fox release's domestic haul to $106 million.
Adam Sandler's animated hit "Hotel Transylvania," from Sony Pictures, also held up well at No. 3 with $13.5 million, pushing its domestic earnings to $119 million.
While domestic revenues were way down for the fourth "Paranormal Activity" flick, the franchise remains a big moneymaker for distributor Paramount. "Paranormal Activity 4" was produced on a tiny budget of $5 million, continuing the franchise's trend of turning minimal investments into tidy profits.
"For us, the focus is always, what are these movies made for and how profitable are they? Within Paramount, it's a colossal success," said Don Harris, the studio's head of distribution. "A $5 million movie that has an opening weekend of over $30 million, it's really kind of irrelevant what No. 2 or No. 3 did. The movies really stand on their own."
Overseas, "Paranormal Activity 4" had a good start with $26.5 million in 33 countries, giving it a worldwide total of $56.7 million.
In limited release, Fox Searchlight's acclaimed drama "The Sessions" did solid business, opening with $121,005 in four theaters in New York City and Los Angeles, for a healthy average of $30,251 a cinema. By comparison, "Paranormal Activity 4" averaged $8,851 in 3,412 theaters.
"The Sessions" stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt in the true-life story of a man paralyzed by polio and stuck in an iron lung most of his life, who hires a sexual surrogate so he can lose his virginity. The film expands to more cities over the next month.
While "Paranormal Activity 4" fell short of the franchise's third installment, which opened over the same weekend last year, overall Hollywood revenues continued to rise after a late-summer slump.
Strong holdovers such as "Argo," "Hotel Transylvania" and "Taken 2" made the difference, with domestic business totaling $131 million, up 8 percent from the same weekend a year ago, according to Hollywood.com. Revenues were up for the fourth-straight weekend.
"Last year, the box office was so top-heavy with `Paranormal Activity 3,' and the rest of the films really underperformed," Dergarabedian said. "This year, we have a much more balanced lineup."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "Paranormal Activity 4," $30.2 million ($26.5 million international).
2. "Argo," $16.6 million.
3. "Hotel Transylvania," $13.5 million.
4. "Taken 2," $13.4 million ($23.6 million international).
5. "Alex Cross," $11.8 million.
6. "Sinister," $9 million.
7. "Here Comes the Boom," $8.5 million.
8. "Pitch Perfect," $7 million ($320,000 international).
9. "Frankenweenie," $4.4 million ($4.1 million international).
10. "Looper," $4.2 million.