With Halloween just around the corner, moviegoers rushed out to see the new horror sequel Saw III which enjoyed the biggest opening for the franchise and easily dominated the North American box office.
The weekend’s other new release, the political thriller Catch a Fire, fared worse and opened outside of the top ten. With little new competition for older adults or families, holdover films in the top ten playing to those two audience segments witnessed good holds and dropped by less than 40% each. Overall, the marketplace was about even with last year’s when the second Saw dominated the charts.
Saw III ripped into theaters and cut up an estimated $34.3M in ticket sales in its debut frame scoring the biggest opening for an R-rated film in nearly two and a half years. The brutal Jigsaw pic crushed the competition averaging a brutal $10,830 from 3,167 theaters and grossed more than the next four films combined. Lionsgate continued to grow its low budget October franchise. The first Saw opened this weekend in 2004 to $18.3M and reached $55.2M while its sequel bowed a year later to $31.7M on its way to $87M. Saw III, which was reportedly produced for only $12M, is already off to a stronger start with an opening that was 8% bloodier than its predecessor’s. The distrib also set new company records for both widest release and biggest opening weekend gross.
The latest installment of the Saw series got off to a potent start on Friday grossing $14.4M before tumbling 21% on Saturday to $11.4M. A Friday-to-Saturday drop is not uncommon for heavily-hyped horror sequels. Sunday sales are estimated to dip only 25% to $8.5M. No R pic has opened this well since Brad Pitt‘s epic Troy with $46.9M in May 2004. Based on the history of the franchise with Halloween providing a boost, but subsequent weekends dropping hard, the torture trilogy could boost its combined domestic tally to a stunning $230M. Combined production budgets amount to less than one-tenth of that figure. Lionsgate has no plans to shut down its cash machine and is developing Saw IV for a Halloween 2007 release.
For the third consecutive weekend, Martin Scorsese‘s mob hit The Departed was the nation’s second most popular film and grossed an estimated $9.8M. Dipping only 27% in its fourth frame, the Warner Bros. release has now made off with a sturdy $91.1M and looks headed for at least $125M domestically thanks to its terrific legs. The Departed is the studio’s second biggest film of 2006 after the $200M of the megabudgeted Superman Returns.
Falling from first to third place was the dueling magicians tale The Prestige with an estimated $9.6M, off a respectable 35%. After ten days, the Buena Vista release has collected $28.8M and seems headed towards the $50-55M range. In its sophomore frame, the Hugh Jackman–Christian Bale thriller still averaged a solid $4,220 per theater.
Clint Eastwood‘s war drama Flags of Our Fathers added more guns to its run with 314 additional theaters, but still slumped 38% in its second weekend to an estimated $6.4M. After ten days, the $90M Paramount release has taken in just $19.9M and did not hold up as well as previous films from the Oscar-winning director. In their second weekends of wide release, Mystic River dropped only 25% in October 2003 while Million Dollar Baby dipped just 31% in February 2005. Plus, neither film had a major expansion of screens. Flags saw its per-theater average fall 47% from last weekend to only $2,900. The World War II pic seems headed for a poor finish of around $40M. Overseas prospects also do not seem too bright as American military pics are not the most popular exports to come out of Hollywood.
Still the top-grossing movie for kids for the fifth straight weekend was Sony’s Open Season with an estimated $6.1M, down only 25%, for a robust $77.4M cume. Fox’s horse drama Flicka dropped a reasonable 35% in its second weekend to an estimated $5M as it faced no new competition for family audiences. With $14.1M in ten days, the PG-rated film could finish up with a respectable $26-28M and do better on DVD early next year. Universal’s Man of the Year dropped 32% to an estimated $4.7M giving the Robin Williams comedy $28.9M to date.
Sony rounded out the top ten with the final three flicks. The horror sequel The Grudge 2 scared up an estimated $3.3M, down 57%, to put its total at $36M after 17 days. The Kirsten Dunst period piece Marie Antoinette tumbled an alarming 47% in its second weekend grossing an estimated $2.9M. With a mere $9.8M in ten days, the Sofia Coppola pic should conclude with a disappointing $14-16M.
The studio also expanded its dysfunctional family comedy Running with Scissors from eight theaters in limited release last weekend to 586 locations nationally this weekend. Following its potent platform lauch, the Annette Bening film performed to moderate results nationwide with an estimated $2.6M for a mediocre $4,352 average. Cume to date stands at $2.9M for Scissors which was not well-liked by critics.
Focus Features’ apartheid thriller Catch a Fire opened to weak results in moderate national release bowing to an estimated $2M from 1,306 theaters for a mild $1,541 average. Directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger), the PG-13 film stars Tim Robbins and Derek Luke and earned mostly positive reviews. Fire tried to perform like the distributor’s Africa-set thriller from last fall, The Constant Gardener. That film also boasted good reviews, some starpower, and a similar number of theaters. But Gardener opened in early September over the Labor Day holiday frame with a three-day bow of $8.7M from 1,346 theaters for a solid $6,444 average. Its timing could have played a big part in the more successful debut since there are usually very few serious movies for adults at the end of summer. Fire opened at the end of a two-month period that followed a string of ten fall films aimed at older adult moviegoers.
An internationally-set film that did connect with moviegoers was the Brad Pitt–Cate Blanchett drama Babel which debuted in New York and Los Angeles in only seven theaters but grossed an estimated $366,000 for a colossal $52,258 average. The R-rated film was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros) and followed separate stories in Morocco, Mexico, and Japan which become interlinked. Reviews were very good and the film won the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Despite each of the seven locations playing the film on two or three screens, Babel still sold out numerous shows over the weekend. Paramount Vantage will expand the film on Friday into 13 new markets for a total of about 35 theaters and go national on November 10 into about 1,200 total playdates.
The Weinstein Company got off to a solid start with its political documentary Shut Up and Sing which took in an estimated $51,000 from four theaters for an impressive $12,750 average. The R-rated film follows the musical trio The Dixie Chicks and how their lives were affected by remarks against President George W. Bush. Reviews were very favorable.
Among notable holdovers in limited release, Miramax’s The Queen continued its slow but steady expansion widening again from 99 to 152 locations in its fifth session. The acclaimed Helen Mirren pic grossed an estimated $1.9M, averaging a strong $12,638, and lifted its cume to $6.3M. Parent company Disney saw its Halloween treat The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D hold in 168 special engagements and took in an estimated $1.8M. Down 45% from its debut, the Tim Burton animated pic has grossed $5.9M in ten days and averaged $10,815 for the frame.
A pair of October titles fell from the top ten this weekend. Fox’s The Marine dropped 48% to an estimated $2M in its third assignment and pushed its sum to $15.5M. Look for a weak $18-20M finish for the John Cena actioner. New Line saw its fright flick Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning tumble bringing its cume to $38M to date. The horror prequel will struggle to get to $40M giving it half of the $80.1M of 2003’s Chainsaw remake.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $84.6M which was up a scant 2% from last year when Saw II debuted at number one with $31.7M; but off 5% from 2004 when The Grudge remained in the top spot with $21.8M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com