“Saw III” sliced through the competition at the weekend box office, solidifying Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.'s low-budget horror series as one of the most cost-effective franchises in the movie business.
The picture, produced for less than $10 million, grossed $34.3 million in three days in the U.S. and Canada, according to studio estimates Sunday. It outperformed last year’s “Saw II” to become the studio’s biggest opener ever, and the industry’s top R-rated opening this year.
“While other horror franchises are declining, ‘Saw’ is continuing to grow,” said Steve Rothenberg, Lions Gate’s president of distribution. “The filmmakers and the marketing team have managed to keep it fresh.”
Two adult-oriented holdover films, “The Departed” and “The Prestige,” placed a distant second and third, respectively, for the weekend.
“Saw III” is the third Halloween weekend hit in three years for the series, which has turned into a perpetual motion machine. Writing teams are working on scripts for “Saw IV,” with all eyes on 2007’s Halloween weekend.
“Saw III” was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who also helmed the second film, from a story by franchise originators Leigh Whannell and James Wan and screenplay by Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell as the crafty villain Jigsaw and Shawnee Smith as his new apprentice, “Saw III” was rated higher in audience exit surveys than “Saw II,” the studio said.
Horror films are known for short runs because fans tend to rush out on opening weekends, but Lions Gate hopes word of mouth can sustain “Saw III.”
The first “Saw,” which cost about $1.2 million to make, opened at $18.3 million in the U.S. and Canada and ended up grossing $102.9 million worldwide. Right after its opening, Lions Gate greenlighted “Saw II,” a $4-million production that generated worldwide ticket sales of $144.1 million a year later.
“Saw” is the most lucrative franchise at the independent studio, which is preparing a third Tyler Perry comedy and second installment of the “Hostel” horror series for early next year. Perry’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and “Madea’s Family Reunion” and the original “Hostel” were big hits in recent years.
“Saw III” opened at 3,167 locations and averaged $10,830 per theater -- the highest among wide releases. The audience was estimated at 69% under age 25 and skewed slightly male.
Warner Bros.’ “The Departed” again flexed its box-office muscle. Director Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed crime thriller added $9.8 million, lifting its total after four weekends to $91.1 million.
Walt Disney Co.'s “The Prestige,” last weekend’s box-office leader, hung tough in its second weekend, declining 35%. The movie grossed an estimated $9.6 million.
The small drop-off bodes well for director Christopher Nolan’s twist-filled magician thriller starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, which cost about $40 million to produce and has now grossed $28.8 million in the U.S. and Canada.
Paramount Pictures’ “Flags of Our Fathers,” the $90-million World War II saga directed by Clint Eastwood that opened last weekend to less-than-expected results, finished fourth, adding $6.4 million and lifting its total to $19.9 million.
That was a modest drop of 38%, although the patriotic drama added theaters. On a per-theater basis, it averaged an estimated $2,900, compared with $4,220 for “The Prestige.”
Among other new releases, the apartheid-era South African drama “Catch a Fire” failed to catch fire for NBC Universal’s Focus Features. It opened at No. 12 with an estimated $2 million from 1,306 theaters.
Paramount Vantage’s “Babel” opened to robust business in limited release, averaging $52,257 at seven theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The drama starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett widens next week to 13 markets and on Nov. 10 to 1,200 theaters.
Miramax’s “The Queen,” starring Helen Mirren, continued to pack theaters in limited release. It averaged $12,638 at 152 theaters, lifting its total to $6.3 million after five weekends.
But Fox Searchlight’s “The Last King of Scotland,” starring Forest Whitaker as the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, has started more slowly despite awards talk for its headliner. It averaged $3,520 at 95 theaters, bringing its total after five weekends to $2.4 million.
Disney’s 3-D version of Tim Burton’s 13-year-old animated musical “The Nightmare Before Christmas” grossed $1.8 million, averaging $10,815 at 168 theaters. Through 10 days, the re-release has generated $5.9 million.
Industrywide, ticket sales were higher than a year ago for the fifth straight weekend. Box-office revenue is up 6.7% year-to-date, according to Exhibitor Relations Co.
Next weekend could feature a clash of two family films as Disney’s “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” and DreamWorks Animation and distributor Paramount’s “Flushed Away” both open. Twentieth Century Fox’s much-hyped mock documentary “Borat” opens in semi-wide release at 800 theaters.
Begin text of infobox
Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Saw III $34.3 $34.3
The Departed 9.8 91.1
The Prestige 9.6 28.8
Flags of Our Fathers 6.4 19.9
Open Season 6.1 77.4
Flicka 5.0 14.1
Man of the Year 4.7 28.9
The Grudge 2 3.3 36.0
Marie Antoinette 2.9 9.8
Running With Scissors 2.6 2.9
*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $105.0 +3.1%
Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $7.65 +6.7%
*--* Source: Exhibitor Relations Co. Los Angeles Times