WINNER OF THE WEEK: James Wan. Do we have to start calling him an auteur now? The horror director behind the Saw franchise and this summer's sleeper The Conjuring scared up a tremendous $41.1 million in estimated ticket sales for Insidious Chapter 2, about $10 million more than expected, and a September record for a horror debut or a live-action debut. (In fact, it's the second biggest September opening ever, behind only the $42.5 million take of last year's cartoon Hotel Transylvania.) It's also three times what the first Insidious earned when it premiered in April 2011 ($13.3 million, on the way to a $54 million total). Give credit to Conjuring's coattails, to clever marketing that showed preview audiences screaming, to the teen-friendly PG-13 rating, and to the continuity from the first movie (all the lead players are back), but mostly give credit to Wan for becoming a horror household name, and for delivering the chills audiences expect.
Also performing above expectations was The Family, opening in second place with an estimated $14.5 million, about $2 to $5 million above most predictions. After all, Robert De Niro's movies have been opening in the single digits lately. But this mob-themed action comedy played well to older audiences, making it smart counterprogramming against Insidious.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Nobody, really. Box office as a whole was up 19 percent over last week. Sure, Riddick lost 63 percent of last weekend's debut business, coming in third with an estimated $7.0 million. Still, that dropoff is typical for a sci-fi film, and this one can boast a respectable two-weekend total of $31.3 million.
Holding up better was Lee Daniels' The Butler, which just barely crossed the $100 million mark after five weeks. The historical epic came in fourth this weekend with an estimated $5.6 million, down just 34 percent from last weekend. And We're the Millers held up even better still, off just 29 percent from last weekend. In fifth place, the comedy earned an estimated $5.4 million, for a six-week total of $131.6 million.
BUY 'GEORGE': As sleepy as the action was at the multiplex, with only two new movies, the art-house saw nine new pictures open and nine more expand into wider release. Five of the new movies did even better per-screen than Insidious (which averaged $13,463 per venue). Best of all was Mother of George, a drama about a Nigerian couple in Brooklyn, which averaged $22,500 per screen. Also excelling were apocalyptic drama Final: The Rapture ($15,950 per screen), D.C. sniper docudrama Blue Caprice ($15,200 per screen), genetically modified food documentary GMO OMG ($15,100 per screen), and Saudi Arabian Oscar submission Wadjda ($13,500 per screen). Then again, none of these movies opened on more than three screens.
If there's a loser among the new art-house films, it's the Billy Bob Thornton period drama Jayne Mansfield's Car. Despite that intriguing title and a cast that includes Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt and Thornton, the long-shelved movie mustered up just $673 per screen on 11 screens, for a total of $7,400. Still, it's also playing now on video-on-demand on cable, so there could be life in the old jalopy yet.