Weekend Box Office (October 27 - 29, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND 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 $33.6M in ticket sales in its debut frame, according to final studio figures, scoring the biggest opening for an R-rated film in 15 months. The brutal Jigsaw pic crushed the competition averaging a brutal $10,613 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 6% 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 dropped 31% to $7.8M. No R pic has opened this well since the raunchy comedy Wedding Crashers with $33.9M in July 2005. 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 $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 $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 $4,197 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 $6.3M. 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 $2,898. 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 $5.9M, down only 28%, for a robust $77.1M cume. Fox's horse drama Flicka dropped a reasonable 39% in its second weekend to $4.7M as it faced no new competition for family audiences. With $13.9M 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 $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 $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 $2.8M. 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 $2.5M for a mediocre $4,320 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 $2M from 1,306 theaters for a mild $1,552 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 $389,351 for a colossal $55,621 average. The R-rated film was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Amores Perro) 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 $50,103 from four theaters for an impressive $12,525 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 $1.9M, averaging a strong $12,560, 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 $1.9M. Down 42% from its debut, the Tim Burton animated pic has grossed $6M in ten days and averaged $11,408 for the frame.

A pair of October titles fell from the top ten this weekend. Fox's The Marine dropped 50% to $1.9M in its third assignment and pushed its sum to $15.4M. 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 $38.2M 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 $83.3M which was up a scant 1% from last year when Saw II debuted at number one with $31.7M; but off 6% from 2004 when The Grudge remained in the top spot with $21.8M.

Compared to projections, Saw III opened a couple of notches higher than my $30M forecast. Catch a Fire debuted well below my $6M prediction and Running with Scissors was on target with my $3M projection.

For DVD reviews of The Lake House and Hard Candy visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Santa Clause 3, Flushed Away, and Borat all open.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, DVDs, music, books, and posters at discounted prices using search engines

# Title Oct 27 - 29 Oct 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Saw III $ 33,610,391 3,167 1 $ 10,613 $ 33,610,391 Lionsgate
2 The Departed 9,848,258 13,462,256 -26.8 2,951 4 3,337 91,098,431 Warner Bros.
3 The Prestige 9,573,215 14,801,808 -35.3 2,281 2 4,197 28,780,742 Buena Vista
4 Flags of Our Fathers 6,346,856 10,245,190 -38.1 2,190 2 2,898 19,923,069 Paramount
5 Open Season 5,862,674 8,162,729 -28.2 3,059 5 1,917 77,120,167 Sony
6 Flicka 4,728,261 7,703,551 -38.6 2,877 2 1,643 13,891,482 Fox
7 Man of the Year 4,727,960 6,935,515 -31.8 2,626 3 1,800 28,884,500 Universal
8 The Grudge 2 3,264,336 7,652,791 -57.3 3,063 3 1,066 35,980,317 Sony
9 Marie Antoinette 2,845,815 5,361,050 -46.9 859 2 3,313 9,752,091 Sony
10 Running with Scissors 2,531,760 226,108 586 2 4,320 2,865,340 Sony
11 The Guardian 2,376,416 3,649,384 -34.9 1,973 5 1,204 49,944,702 Buena Vista
12 Catch a Fire 2,026,997 1,305 1 1,553 2,026,997 Focus
13 The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D 1,916,645 3,277,004 -41.5 168 2 11,409 5,988,305 Buena Vista
14 The Queen 1,909,139 1,510,081 26.4 152 5 12,560 6,289,941 Miramax
15 The Marine 1,885,388 3,795,160 -50.3 1,868 3 1,009 15,440,515 Fox
16 Employee of the Month 1,574,678 2,865,745 -45.1 1,478 4 1,065 26,183,108 Lionsgate
17 One Night with the King 1,556,293 2,377,203 -34.5 823 3 1,891 10,040,187 8X
18 Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Beginning 1,269,942 3,779,829 -66.4 2,007 4 633 38,156,805 New Line
19 Facing the Giants 731,177 762,851 -4.2 393 5 1,861 6,231,478 Goldwyn
20 The Illusionist 503,844 744,221 -32.3 410 11 1,229 38,216,383 Yari Film Group
Top 5 $ 65,241,394 $ 54,375,534 20.0
Top 10 83,339,526 81,899,879 1.8
Top 20 99,090,045 99,969,407 -0.9
Top 20 vs. 2005 99,090,045 95,102,031 4.2

Last Updated : October 30, 2006 at 6:30PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.