Horror flick "Devil" surprises with $34.5 million

Sun Jan 8, 2012 3:20pm EST
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Low-budget horror movie "The Devil Inside" scared up a surprisingly strong $34.5 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales to take possession of the weekend box office crown, according to studio estimates released on Sunday.

The better-than-expected performance for "Devil," coming despite terrible reviews and poor reactions from some filmgoers, knocked Tom Cruise's two-time champion "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" to second place. Both movies were distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc.

Critics blasted "Devil," with just 7 percent of reviews coming in positive on aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. Filmgoers were sharply divided. Polling from audience survey firm CinemaScore showed 16 percent gave the movie an "A," while 19 percent awarded it an "F." Two-thirds rated the film a C or below.

Still, the movie blew past Paramount's projections for modest weekend sales of around $8 million and other industry forecasts of $20 million-plus. The studio acquired the film for just $1 million and described the movie as "polarizing" audiences.

"As many people loved it as were disturbed by it," said Don Harris, president of domestic distribution for Paramount. He credited the huge opening-weekend take to a marketing strategy similar to the studio's push for its blockbuster, low-budget "Paranormal Activity" franchise.

"The marketing campaign was very much like 'Paranormal.' It was online, trying to find the younger moviegoer, the fans for this genre," he said.

"Devil" tells the story of a woman who investigates her mother's exorcisms. Indeed, the movie appealed to a younger crowd, with 59 percent of filmgoers under age 25, Paramount said. Fifty-four percent of the audience were males.

With "Paranormal Activity," the third movie in the series hit theaters last fall and has pulled in a whopping $203 million globally on a $5 million production budget. The studio just announced a fourth "Paranormal" film for this fall.   Continued...