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'Saw 3D' opening shows series hasn't lost all its mojo

Ben Fritz
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — After seven films in seven years and nearly $750 million in worldwide box office, "Saw" is ending with neither a wimper nor a bang.

"Saw 3D," advertised as the final installment in the pioneering horror-torture series, opened to $24.2 million this weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Lionsgate.

That's significantly better than the $14.1 million debut of last year's box office disappointment "Saw VI." However it's also well below the $30 million to $34 million collected by "Saws" two through five on their first weekends, even though those movies did not enjoy the benefit of 3-D ticket price surcharges.

As the only new movie to open nationwide on the traditionally slow Halloween weekend, "Saw 3D" seemed to have a clear shot at first place. Nonetheless, some in Hollywood predicted that this would be a close race between it and "Paranormal Activity 2," which ended up dropping 59 percent on its second weekend in theaters to $16.5 million.

Last year, the first "Paranormal Activity" expanded nationwide on the same weekend "Saw VI" opened and won the weekend in a surprise victory. A similar outcome this year would have been embarassing for Lionsgate.

Following a $40.6 million opening for the sequel last weekend, "Paranormal Activity" has established itself as the pre-eminent horror franchise of the moment.

Still, the not-great-but-still-good debut for "Saw 3D" demonstrated that despite the failure of "Saw VI," the series hasn't lost all its mojo.

"We all knew we didn't want to go out the way we did last year," said Lionsgate executive vice president of distribution David Spitz. "So we decided to go with 3-D and make it the final chapter, which were the reasons we thought we could do it one more time."

3-D was a major draw for the movie, as 92 percent of receipts came from the 75 percent of theaters where people paid extra to see images pop out of the screen.

That came at an additional cost for Lionsgate, however. While the last few "Saw" movies all cost about $11 million, the new entry cost about $20 million to produce, primarily because of the new technology.

If it follows the pattern of previous "Saw" films, which disappeared quickly from theaters since most of the young audience comes on opening weekend, "3D" should end up with a domestic gross of about $50 million.

Prospects overseas, where 3-D films are often more popular, are better. In Great Britain, the only foreign market in which Lionsgate is handling distribution, the new film set a franchise record. It opened to $5.3 million, 30 percent better than the previous top performer, "Saw III."

The only other film to make a major move in the marketplace was the Hillary Swank drama "Conviction," which expanded from 55 to 565 theaters across the country. The adaptation of a real-life story about a woman determined to free her brother from jail collected a weak $1.8 million.

The Swedish film "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," based on the last installment of a best-selling book trilogy, opened to a so-so $735,000 at 121 theaters. Its per-theater average was lower than the first weekends of March's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and July's "The Girl Who Played With Fire," based on the previous two books in the series.

The James Gandolfini-Kristen Stewart independent drama "Welcome to the Rileys" launched in 10 theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Boston to a soft $45,000.

The adult action film "Red" and inspirational drama "Secretariat" continue to hold very well. Ticket sales for both declined only 28 percent on their third and fourth weekends, respectively.

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