WINNER OF THE WEEK: Argo. Sure, Ben Affleck's movie remained only in second place and earned half what Paranormal Activity 4 did. Still, it mostly held onto last week's business, declining a negligible 15 percent to an estimated $16.6 million, for a 10-day total of $43.2 million. Affleck's one-of-a-kind blend of spy thriller, docudrama, and Hollywood satire has had critics talking Oscar; now it clearly has the box office to match, and its strong second-week showing suggests that it'll be around to please audiences for a while yet.
Strong legs were evident as well for the two movies in a virtual tie for third place. Hotel Transylvania provided Halloween fun for kids to the tune of an estimated $13.5 million (down just 22 percent from a week ago), for a four-week total of $119.0 million. Taken 2, which ruled the chart for its first two weeks, claimed $13.4 million (declining a modest 39 percent from last week), for a 17-day total of $106.0 million.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Paranormal Activity 4. How can this be the loser when it opened at Number One and scared up an estimated $30.2 million? Because the Paranormal Activity franchise is supposed to be one of the few sure things in Hollywood. Having supplanted Saw as the franchise that reliably brings fans to theaters like clockwork every Halloween, the annual found-footage frightfest had been seeing bigger and bigger openings every year, culminating with the $52.6 million debut of PA3 last October. Granted, no one expected this year's version to top that; the reviews haven't been kind, and there's some competition this year from the similar Sinister (which held on very well from last week, with another estimated $9.0 million, for a two-weekend total of $32.0 million). Still, PA4 was expected to open in the upper 40s. Instead, it offered up the smallest debut since the first installment. So by the franchise's own lofty standards, this weekend's opening seems an anemic disappointment.
Also opening at the low end of expectations was Alex Cross, which took in an estimated $11.8 million to debut in fifth place. James Patterson's serial-killer thrillers had the makings of a lucrative franchise when Morgan Freeman played Cross more than a decade ago in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. But while Tyler Perry is a proven box office draw when he plays a gun-toting grandma, it's not clear that Madea fans want to see Perry solving gruesome crimes, or that genre fans want to see the playwright/moralist as a hard-boiled sleuth. The movie did about half as well as movies with Perry's name in the title, which tend to open at around $24 million. Maybe they should have called it Tyler Perry's Alex Cross.
HELEN RAISER: For about five years at the turn of the millennium, Helen Hunt was on top of Hollywood, winning multiple Emmys for her starring role on the seven-season hit comedy Mad About You and starring in hit movies like Twister and As Good As It Gets, which earned her a Best Actress Oscar. She was in four major movies in 2000, including What Women Want and Cast Away. And then . . . she all but vanished for a decade, devoting herself to work on Broadway, developing her directorial debut (2008 indie Then She Found Me), and raising a daughter. Over the last decade, she appeared in just a handful of movies. But now she's poised for a big, splashy return in Sundance favorite The Sessions. The 49-year-old's performance is being described as brave and fearless, adjectives reviewers use as a euphemism for "gets naked a lot." (She plays a sex therapist.) The movie opened on four screens this weekend and earned an impressive $30,251 on each, a figure that suggests the movie will do well once it expands nationwide. Whether the film's success is due to the thespian talents of Hunt and John Hawkes or just to rubbernecking curiosity, Hunt has her shot at a comeback. Let's hope it's for good this time.