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'Paranormal Activity: Marked Ones' may scare off 'Smaug,' 'Frozen'

A low-budget, Latino-targeted horror offshoot could steal enough souls to possess the box office over the weekend. But to do so, it will have to out-draw a "Hobbit" sequel and "Frozen," which are both enjoying a strong holiday season.

Paramount Pictures' "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" could gross $25 million to $30 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada through Sunday, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. The movie cost about $5 million to make, similar to the last two "Paranormal Activity" films.

It could make for a tight three-way race for the top of the box-office rankings. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" continues to attract Middle-earth fans with sales of more than $209 million in the U.S. and Canada as of Wednesday and has topped the competition over the last three weekends.

Meanwhile, Disney's animated musical "Frozen" posted a big surge over the Christmas break and nearly matched "Smaug" last weekend. "Frozen," which has faced little-to-no competition for family film-seekers, was released in late November in North America and has grossed about $272 million as of Wednesday. "Smaug" and "Frozen" could gross around $20 million each through Sunday. 

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"The Marked Ones" is a spinoff from the found-footage franchise that has generated more than $350 million domestically so far. This entry features new characters and is aimed directly at Latino moviegoers. The spook show stars newcomer Andrew Jacobs as a young Latino in Oxnard who is marked for possession by the demons of the preceding "Paranormal Activity" installments. 

The scare-fest, directed by Christopher B. Landon (who has writing credits for the last three "Paranormal Activity" movies), could continue a string of inexpensive frightening features that have performed well at theaters in the last year. The $15-million "Mama," executive-produced by Guillermo Del Toro, opened with $28.4 million when it debuted last January, and went on to take in $71.6 million. "Mama" also had serious pull with Latinos.

"Insidious: Chapter 2," released in September, scared up a lifetime domestic total of $83.6 million on a production budget of $5 million, after the $3-million "The Purge" grossed $64.5 million following its June release. 

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The first "Paranormal Activity," from writer-director Oren Peli, was produced on a shoestring budget before Paramount released it and generated nearly $108 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada. Though still highly profitable, 2012's "Paranormal Activity 4" had a weaker run with $53.9 million in domestic ticket sales.  

"The Marked Ones" is the weekend's only new wide release in a still-crowded film marketplace, joining a slate of holdovers that includes two other Paramount movies -- "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" and Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" -- along with David O. Russell's con-artist romp "American Hustle," Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks" and 20th Century Fox's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

"Paranormal Activity 5," not a follow-up to "The Marked Ones," is set for release in October.  


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