Thanks in part to a killer trailer and strong word-of-mouth, Zombieland was alive and kicking at the box office, scaring up $25 million for the top spot, according to early estimates from Hollywood.com Box Office. The Sony Pictures release marks the best debut of star Woody Harrelson’s career, and very well could kick off the umpteenth revival of the undead at your local cineplex. With its potent mix of big laughs and scares, the zombie comedy (or zomcom, as has quickly become the shorthand for the film in the blogosphere) looks to make a tidy killing in an October surprisingly devoid of juicy R-rated fun; a solid “A-” Cinemascore rating doesn’t hurt either.
More good news for Sony Pictures on its stellar run in the second half of 2009: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs continues to be the surprise sleeper of the fall, dropping just 33 percent in its third weekend with $16.7 million and $82.4 million total. And Disney-Pixar’s minor gamble at mounting a limited-run Toy Story/Toy Story 2 double feature in 3-D looks to have paid off quite handsomely. Even though many theaters could only manage three screenings a day, Woody and Buzz still rounded up $12.5 million in just 1,745 theaters, snagging third place. That certainly bodes well for the public’s appetite for Toy Story 3, due next summer.
Two other comedies headlined by beloved funny people making their directorial debuts opened this weekend to less-than-gleeful returns. Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying laughed up $7.4 million in 1,707 theaters for fourth place; while that’s certainly better than the $5 million debut of 2008’s Ghost Town, Gervais’s last film as a star, it still landed short of many estimates. But at least it beat out Drew Barrymore’s roller-derby film Whip It!, which limply rolled to sixth place with $4.9 million in 1,720 theaters. (The Bruce Willis sci-fi thriller Surrogates flopped between them at fifth place with $7.3 million, a 51 percent drop for a $26.4 million two week total.)
Michael Moore, meanwhile, should be (moderately) happy: His latest documentary Capitalism: A Love Story banked $4.9 million in its expansion to almost 1,000 theaters, besting the $3.6 million semi-wide opening of 2007’s Sicko, his previous film. Still, that figure is nowhere near the $23.9 million 2004 opening of Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Ah, that free market — such a fickle mistress.
Finally, by far the best per theater debut went to the Coen brothers, who opened their well-reviewed A Serious Man in six venues for a most impressive $41,900 per theater average. And Paramount’s unconventional release strategy for the ultra-low-budget horror flick Paranormal Activity continues to look scary smart, with the film selling out midnight screenings in all 33 cities screening the spook-fest, banking a hair-raising $16,000 per screen. (The film will finally expand to regular all-hours showings starting next weekend.) Overall, box office was down a slight 1 percent from last year, when the horror film kiddie comedy Beverly Hills Chihuahua terrified charmed a nation.