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Far exceeding expectations, Paranormal Activity 3 grossed a massive $26.2 million on Friday, putting it on course to earn as much as $50 million for the weekend and score the best opening in nearly four months at the domestic box office on the strength of both younger and older moviegoers.

The third installment in the blockbuster Halloween horror franchise is on course to take in $10 million more than last year’s Paranormal Activity 2, which opened to $40.7 million. It’s rare for a a threequel to score bigger numbers than the two preceeding pics, and is a testament to the originality of the Paranormal franchise, produced by Jason Blum, Oren Peli and Steven Schneider, as well as Paramount’s marketing acumen. And with no Saw installment this year, Paranormal 3 won’t have any competition over Halloween weekend.

Paranormal 3, a prequel, looks to score the best domestic opening since Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes in early August. That pic earned $54.5 million in its first weekend.

Friday’s $26.2 million estimate for Paranormal 3 includes $8 million in midnight shows, which were 30 percent higher than the $6.3 million grossed by Paranormal 2.

In an unusual twist, Paranormal 3 received a C+ CinemaScore, a grade that doesn’t usually correspond with big grosses, although horror films in general usually draw lower scores. About 53 percent of the audience was under the age of 25, while 47 percent was over. Paranormal 3 also skewed slightly toward women, which made up 54 percent of the audience.

The weekend’s two other new wide entries got off to a soft start on Friday, as expected, despite both receiving a B CinemaScore.

Paul W.S. Anderson’s $90 million The Three Musketeers, distributed by Summit Entertainment domestically and produced by Germany’s Constantin Films, grossed an estimated $2.9 on Friday for a soft $8.9 milli weekend estimate. The big-budget action adventure placed No. 4 on Friday, behind Paramount’s Footloose ($3.5 million) and DreamWorks’ Real Steel ($3.2 million).

Universal’s Rowan Atkinson action-comedy Johnny English Reborn grossed $1.1 million on Friday for a projected weekend opening of $3.8 million. The good news — both films, and particularly Johnny English, are big hits overseas.

Johnny English Reborn is a runaway hit internationally, and is poised to jump the $100 million mark this weekend, despite the tepid U.S. launch. It’s opened No. 1 in almost all of the 43 foreign markets where it’s been released and goes out in six additional territories this weekend, including France.

Three Musketeers has earned north of $50 million through last weekend.

Paranormal 3 also is off to a strong start overseas, where it’s outpacing Paranormal 2 as well. The movie opened to $521K in France on Thursday, 13 pecent of Paranormal 2. In Russia, the $550K opening waas 45 percent higher than the sequel, while Australia turned in $516K, 14 percent ahead.

The Paranormal franchise has been one of the most profitable film series in recent memory. The first Paranormal, which cost $15,000 to produce and opened in a limited run in September 2009, went on to gross $193.4 million worldwide.

Paranormal 2 cost $3 million to produce, and grossed $177.5 million worldwide. The threequel’s budget is pegged at $5 million.

Elsewhere a the domestic box office, Real Steel and Footloose will be in a close race this weekend for the No. 2 spot, with Three Musketeers expected to stay at No. 4. Rounding out the top five is Sony’s George Clooney-Ryan Gosling political drama, which grossed $1.5 million on Friday for a domestic cume of $25.8 million.

News Source: HollywoodReporter

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