In this economy, it's no fun to look for work, so this weekend Josh Navarro tried to distract himself by seeing a movie. He picked something even scarier than the job market: "Friday the 13th."
So did thousands of other people, as a splashy remake of the gory 1980 movie performed better at the box office than any other previous slasher film.
"Friday the 13th" brought in $42.2 million, and its box-office sales have helped make this the highest-grossing Presidents Day weekend ever. And that doesn't even include today's numbers. Total box office receipts for Friday, Saturday and Sunday are expected to be $190 million, up 38.5% from last year.
"It's a nice escape, a way to forget about it all," said Navarro, who lives in Silver Lake and is looking for a job in a restaurant or movie theater. He also saw "Confessions of a Shopaholic" this weekend at a matinee to save money.
Warner Bros.' romantic comedy "He's Just Not That Into You" came in second at the box office this weekend with $19.6 million in its second week in theaters. It was a big weekend for Warner Bros., which had the top two films.
"We're rolling," said Dan Fellman, president of theatrical distribution at Warner Bros. "We had a really great weekend at Camp Warner."
The Liam Neeson thriller "Taken," from 20th Century Fox, came in third, pulling in $19.3 million.
Things may be worrisome these days, but that's been a boon to the movie industry as people flock to the cinema for a distraction. Last month was the first January ever to generate $1 billion at the box office, and this year's revenue to date is up 22.2% over last year. Even the typically slow Super Bowl weekend nearly set a record this year.
"Going to the movies is still considered something that's not an exorbitant expenditure, even as people are dialing back their costs," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Media by Numbers.
Valentine's Day also helped boost box-office numbers this weekend, as infrequent moviegoers saw films on dates. Jay and Cesia Oliva, for instance, went to see "He's Just Not That Into You" at the Americana at Brand in Glendale. They were treating themselves to one of the only movies they've seen since the birth of their daughter 11 months ago.
The weekend's top-10 list was a mixture of horror, romance, family and thrillers, which helped draw more people to the theaters, said Richard Shamban, vice president of distribution at Fox Searchlight Pictures, which put out "Slumdog Millionaire," and "The Wrestler." Now in its 14th week in theaters, "Slumdog" came in ninth place in the box office, taking in $7.2 million.
The remake of "Friday the 13th" tells the macabre story of Jason Voorhees, who goes on a killing rampage at a summer camp.
It beat out the previous horror record, set by "The Grudge," a 2004 remake of a Japanese horror film that made $39.1 million, although other movies have sold more tickets.
Dire economic times have made scary movies popular before: "Frankenstein" came out in 1931 during the Depression. These movies are well-attended now because they "allow people to control how they experience fear and anxiety," said Aviva Briefel, a horror film expert and associate professor of English at Bowdoin College in Maine.
After the terrorist attacks of 2001, scholars predicted that horror movies would wane, she said, but the genre has seen a resurgence even as the movies have become more violent. "Friday the 13th" probably did well because people like to see a familiar horror character, even as the world they're living in becomes unfamiliar, she said.
"It's combining this already popular franchise that many adults remember fondly with a new movie for younger people," said Brandon Gray, president and publisher of online movie publication Box Office Mojo.
Disney's "Confessions of a Shopaholic" premiered in fourth place with $15.4 million. Focus Features' 3-D fantasy film "Coraline" brought parents and children to the box office in its second week in theaters, pulling in $15.3 million and bringing its total grosses to $35.6 million.
The fantasy film lured South L.A. residents Celene Castro and Cesar Serrano and their three children, although "we're really cutting back," Castro said. "We like to go to movies to spend time with the kids."
Of course, there is another way that movies are an escape for some viewers, said Ava Richards, who was seeing "Coraline" at the Americana at Brand with her daughter Stacy.
Richards, a mother of four, is unemployed and stressed about her continuing job search. So when she brought another daughter to see "Friday the 13th" the night before, she was able to escape all of that: She fell asleep.
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Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks (studio) (millions) (millions) 1 Friday the 13th (Warner Bros.) $42.2 $42.2 1
2 He's Just Not That Into You 19.6 55.1 2 (Warner Bros.)
3 Taken (20th Century Fox) 19.3 77.9 3
4 Confessions of a Shopaholic 15.4 15.4 1 (Disney)
5 Coraline (Focus) 15.3 35.6 2
6 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 11.7 110.5 5 (Sony/Columbia)
7 The International (Sony/Columbia) 10.0 10.0 1
8 Pink Panther 2 (Sony/MGM) 9.0 22.3 2
9 Slumdog Millionaire 7.2 86.5 14 (Fox Searchlight)
10 Push (Summit Ent.) 6.9 19.3 2 *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $190 +38.5% $1.44 +22.2% *--*
Source: Media by Numbers