As return-on-investment goes, The Paranormal Activity franchise has to be considered one of the most successful movie series of all time. It’s also the movie that launched Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, one of the most profitable production companies in Hollywood. Blum invested in the original Paranormal Activity, which was made for only $15,000, and it would go on to make nearly $200 million. Four more Paranormal Activity movies have since been released, and the franchise has earned $811 million on a production budget; all told, of $18 million, or $2 million less than Jennifer Lawrence will earn to star in one film.
For better or worse, Paranormal Activity also revitalized the found-footage conceit (initially popularized by The Blair Witch Project) and established the micro-budget model that Jason Blum has since used to finance the successful Sinister, The Purge and Insidious franchises.
On Oct. 23, the Paranormal Activity franchise will finally come to a close with The Ghost Dimension, which is expected to answer many of the questions posed by the first four films. If the past movies are any indication, we should not expect a satisfying or happy conclusion.
Why has the Paranormal Activity franchise been so successful? Critical reception to the five films, so far, has been trending downwards (from 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with the original to 24 percent and 37 percent on the last two), but audiences have still turned out, in spite of middling reviews from the audiences themselves. So what is it that keeps them coming back?
You could argue that it is the mystery underlying the franchise, namely a demon who goes by the name of Toby. You’d be hard-pressed, however, to find anyone who could successfully piece together the Paranormal Activity mythology (or even recall that the demon’s name is Toby). The bits and pieces of clues in each of the films doesn’t add up to much, and the only other through line for the series is Katie Featherston’s Katie, a character who starred in the first film and has appeared in all four of the others in various capacities (she is also slated to appear in the final film).
The mythology is incoherent, but the one plot element that each of the five movies has utilized is also why, I think, the franchise has been so successful: The supernatural force at the root of the story cannot be defeated.