Weekend Box Office

Box Office Guru Preview: Saw III Brings The Pain

by | October 26, 2006 | Comments

Blood will flow and screams will be deafening at North American multiplexes this weekend when the horror sequel "Saw III" buzzes its way into theaters. While there will be no fight for the number one spot, the rest of the top ten will see new films and holdovers scrambling for high positions.

The political thriller "Catch a Fire" opens on Friday in moderate national release and the comedy "Running with Scissors" expands into major markets after an impressive debut in limited release last weekend. Meanwhile, star-driven pics "The Prestige" and "The Departed" will try to remain popular choices with adult moviegoers.

If it’s Halloween, it must be "Saw." That’s the tagline that Lionsgate hopes will keep horror fans coming back for a third helping of pain for the newest chapter in its highly profitable fright franchise, "Saw III." The R-rated film finds Jigsaw returning to terrorize another set of young people. Once again, the formula of no stars plus extreme brutality unleashing its fury on the weekend before the pumpkin holiday remains intact. Now a major player in the horror genre, Lionsgate opened its first "Saw" in 2004 to the tune of $18.3M and grew its audience over the following year, especially with DVD, to propel the sequel to a $31.7M bow. Over the last 15 months, no other R-rated film has opened better. Now, a marketplace without many exciting choices for the 17-30 age group will embrace a film, though familiar, that appeals to young adults.

Another unfortunate dude opens "Saw III."

This month has already seen a pair of horror franchise pics open weaker than their predecessors which bowed in mid-October of recent years. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" debuted to $18.5M, down 34% from the $28.1M of 2003’s "Massacre," and "The Grudge 2" launched with $20.8M, a steep 47% less than the Gellar original. But "Saw III" is in a different situation. "Beginning" was a prequel three years later with not much new to offer while "Grudge 2" was no longer a star vehicle. "Saw III" promises more of what its fans want – brutality, gore, and torture – so it stands on almost equal footing when compared to the last installment. The fan base has probably not grown much in the last twelve months and some might even drop out thinking it’s just the same offering yet again. But with competing fright flicks fading fast, "Saw III" will basically be the only horror film in town for those getting ready for Halloween. Opening in over 3,000 theaters, "Saw III" might cut up around $30M.

Tim Robbins plays an elite South African leader and Derek Luke stars as an oppressed everyman in the apartheid drama "Catch a Fire." Directed by Phillip Noyce ("Patriot Games, "Clear and Present Danger"), the PG-13 political thriller tells the true story of a man captured and tortured by his government, only to become a radical freedom fighter for his people. Focus is likely to attract an audience similar to the one it saw last fall with another African-set political pic, "The Constant Gardener." The Ralph FiennesRachel Weisz film boasted a similar level of starpower and screens when it bowed to $8.7M over three days from 1,346 locations for a solid $6,444 average.

Derek Luke in the inspirational "Catch a Fire."

Reviews for "Fire" have been generally positive, but it will not be an easy sell at the box office. Robbins is the top star here and his track record selling tickets is spotty when it comes to films where he is the solo anchor. Plus the marketplace is filled with pictures targeting mature adults like "The Departed," "The Prestige," and "Flags of Our Fathers" so a crowded field will make it tough for "Fire." Using the ‘based on a true story’ angle in the marketing is always a helpful thing and Focus will soon see how much mileage it can get from it. Attacking 1,305 locations, "Catch a Fire" might capture about $6M over the Friday-to-Sunday session.

Annette Bening‘s dysfunctional family pic "Running with Scissors" enjoyed a strong platform debut last weekend with a scorching $28,263 average from only six sites. This Friday, Sony hopes to build on its bow by expanding the R-rated film into 586 theaters across North America. Critics agree that "Scissors" is not the next "Little Miss Sunshine." Reviews have been unflattering which will limit the commercial potential of a film that will mostly play to upscale adult audiences. A weekend take of around $3M could result diluting the per-theater average down to the neighborhood of $5,000.

Annette Bening and Brian Cox in "Running With Scissors."

Arthouses continue to get more crowded with fall films hoping for critical buzz and possible awards attention. Paramount Vantage packs the most starpower with its Brad PittCate Blanchett drama "Babel" which took home Best Director honors at Cannes this year for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Amores Perros," "21 Grams"). The R-rated tale trots across the globe from Morocco to Mexico to Japan with four interweaving stories about people from around the world who have no idea how connected their lives are. "Babel" opens in just six locations in New York and Los Angeles, most of them major multiplexes, and expands nationally in November. Reviews have been solid.

Brad Pitt, in the oscar-buzz grabber "Babel."

With Election Day around the corner, President George W. Bush stars in two documentaries that will try to stir up some controversy in order to get audiences running to their local theater. Newmarket Films releases "Death of a President," a docudrama about the fictional assassination of Bush in October 2007 and its aftermath. The R-rated whodunit was one of the hottest films at the Toronto Film Festival last month and hopes to capitalize on its buzz when it invades over 100 theaters this Friday. Also trying to wage a Red State vs. Blue State rivalry is "Shut Up & Sing" which examines the hardships that The Dixie Chicks faced recording their new album after their public outcry against the current Commander-in-Chief. The Weinstein Company opens the film in New York and Los Angeles on Friday before expanding to much of the country on November 10.


Among holdovers, the period thriller "The Prestige" and the mob drama "The Departed" should remain popular contenders in the top five. "Saw III" should not detract from either pic too much and the frame’s other new films will not play wide enough to offer significant competition in the rankings. "Prestige" swiped the top spot last weekend and is well-liked by moviegoers. A 40% drop would give Buena Vista about $9M and a ten-day total of $28M. "The Departed" has been holding up superbly so another 30% dip would leave Warner Bros. with around $9.5M which could be good enough for a third consecutive weekend at number two. The cume would rise to $90M.

LAST YEAR: Doing what its predecessor couldn’t do, "Saw II" opened triumphantly at number one and grossed a sturdy $31.7M for Lionsgate on its way to $87M continuing its most popular horror franchise. Sony countered with its family friendly adventure sequel "The Legend of Zorro" which debuted in second place with a decent $16.3M. The pricey Antonio BanderasCatherine Zeta-Jones pic went on to reach just $45.4M domestically. Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman quietly bowed in third with the comedy "Prime" which opened to $6.2M from less than 2,000 theaters. Universal found its way to a $22.8M final. The horse flick "Dreamer" held up well in its second jump taking in $6.1M while fellow kidpic "Wallace & Gromit" rounded out the top five with $4.3M in its fourth weekend. The fourth new wide release of the frame, Nicolas Cage‘s "The Weather Man," got rained out collecting a mere $4.2M leading to a wimpy $12.5M finish.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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