By John Young
Updated October 23, 2011 at 07:23 PM EDT

Well, that worked. Produced for only $5 million, Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 3 surpassed everyone’s expectations and opened to a staggering $54 million, according to studio estimates.

That’s the biggest October debut ever, beating the $50.4 million opening of last year’s equally scary Jackass 3-D. Paramount is also claiming that PA3 clinched the best horror opening ever, topping Paranormal Activity 2‘s $40.7 million. But that record depends on how strictly one defines the horror genre. For instance, is I Am Legend more of a sci-fi or horror film? If you consider it to be the latter, then I Am Legend holds the horror record with its $77.2 million debut.

Regardless, no matter how you look at it, PA3 posted some huge numbers this weekend. The R-rated horror prequel secured the best opening since Rise of the Planet of the Apes premiered to $54.8 million in early August, and it essentially gave the box office a shot of adrenaline after two months of lackluster results. The series continued to attract a large proportion of younger moviegoers, with 53 percent of the audience under the age of 25. However, PA3 skewed slightly older than PA2, which drew an audience that was 60 percent under age 25.

Surprisingly, PA3 received a poor “C+” rating from CinemaScore graders. Horror films are frequently saddled with underwhelming grades from the market research firm, but by comparison, PA2 earned a more respectable “B” rating. Normally, PA3‘s low CinemaScore mark would foreshadow a significant drop next week. But considering that next weekend is Halloween weekend, and there won’t be a Saw movie (or any other horror film) to compete with it, PA3 may actually hold up fairly well.

Like the house that always handed out raisins for Halloween, the weekend’s two other new releases — The Three Musketeers and Johnny English Reborn — attracted very few visitors. The Three Musketeers, helmed by Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson, had to settle for fourth place with just $8.8 million. The PG-13 steampunk action film joined What’s Your Number?, Mars Needs Moms, Fright Night, and Apollo 18 to become the fifth movie this year to open to less than $10 million while playing in at least 3,000 theaters.

The movie failed to entice younger moviegoers, as only 36 percent of its audience was under the age of 25. Milla Jovovich, who stars in Musketeers and is married to Anderson, took to Twitter to accuse distributor Summit Entertainment of not properly marketing the film as a “fun family adventure.” The poorly reviewed movie garnered an okay “B” rating from CinemaScore graders.

Even before reaching American shores, the British spy comedy sequel Johnny English Reborn had already surpassed its $45 million budget by grossing $85.1 million overseas. Still, its $3.8 million opening (and eighth-place finish) this weekend is a disappointment, especially considering that the original Johnny English debuted to $9.1 million back in 2003. CinemaScore participants gave the PG-rated flick a “B” grade.

Second and third place went to holdovers Real Steel and Footloose, which tallied $11.3 million and $10.9 million, respectively. Both movies, along with The Ides of March in fifth place, dropped only about 30 percent from last week — an indication of strong word of mouth.

In semi-wide release, the G-rated basketball drama The Mighty Macs opened to $1.1 million at 975 theaters, for a paltry per-location average of $1,090. Among limited releases, two new movies stood out. The Wall Street thriller Margin Call collected a solid $582,000 from 56 locations. And the Sundance drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, featuring a breakout performance by Elizabeth Olsen, grossed $138,000 from four theaters for a superb $34,500 per-location average.

1. Paranormal Activity 3 — $54.0 mil

2. Real Steel — $11.3 mil

3. Footloose — $10.9 mil

4. The Three Musketeers — $8.8 mil

5. The Ides of March — $4.9 mil

Paranormal Activity

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  • 86 minutes
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