‘Saw II’ is a cut above

Sequel carves $30.5 million

A correction was made to this article on Nov. 2, 2005.

Horror sequel “Saw II” solved the box office puzzle that has stymied other distribs during the fall season, bowing to $30.5 million from 2,949 locations.

Bow is the biggest in the studio’s history, topping last year’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

If estimate holds, pic is the biggest opener so far of the fall season, which, after a promising start, has stalled in recent weeks; bow just nudged past the $30 million posted by “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” in September.

Debuting in second place was Sony’s “The Legend of Zorro,” which scored $16.5 million from 3,520 theaters. Followup to 1998’s “The Mask of Zorro” did solid biz overseas with $27 million.

Frame’s other new pics bowed significantly lower. Universal’s “Prime,” financed primarily by Bob Yari’s Stratus Films, grossed $6.4 million from 1,827 venues.

And Paramount’s Nicolas Cage starrer “The Weather Man” hit inclement weather, started its run with $4.2 million from 1,510 theaters.

Among last weekend’s openers, DreamWorks’ “Dreamer” held on the best, scoring $6.3 million, a 31% drop, in its second weekend. Cume on the Dakota Fanning pic is now $17.5 million. U’s “Doom,” which won the B.O. crown last weekend, took a heavy 74% plunge to $4.1 million, dropping to seventh place in its sophomore frame. Cume on the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vidgame adaptation is now $22.9 million.

Warner Bros.’ Charlize Theron drama “North Country,” also in its soph session, mined an additional $3.7 million, a 50% dip, putting its total haul at $12.2 million.

Taking the biggest drop of the session was 20th Century Fox’s “Stay,” which plunged 78% with second-weekend grosses of $490,000 from 1,684 engagements. Cume is now $3.35 million.

In addition to claiming the Lions Gate record for biggest first weekend, “Saw II’s” $12.2 million opening Friday stands as the biggest single day in the distrib’s history.

While that means first-day grosses made up a disproportionate amount of the weekend tally, Lions Gate was bullish about the horror pic’s prospects in coming weeks.

Said Lions Gate prexy Tom Ortenberg, “With superb exit polls, we expect ‘Saw II’ to continue on its way to becoming one of Lions Gate’s highest-grossing films ever.”

Distrib chief Steve Rothenberg noted “Saw II” was the fifth biggest-opening horror sequel, behind “The Ring Two,” “Scream 3,” “Scream 2” and “Blade II.”

Exit surveys showed the aud was split evenly between males and females, although it skewed heavily young, with two-thirds under the age of 25. Polls also showed that of the people who had seen the first “Saw,” 49% rated the sequel as better.

After last year’s “Saw,” a Sundance pickup, opened to $18 million and cume $55 million domestic, Lions Gate inked a nine-pic pact with Twisted Pictures, which financed the original’s $1.2 million budget.

That pic was helmed by James Wan and penned by Leigh Whannell. They exec produced the sequel, which was helmed by Darren Lynn Bousman from a script by Whannell and Bousman.

O’seas key to ‘Zorro’

Sony execs said they were pleased with the domestic “Zorro” bow but emphasized that much of the strategy behind the pic was geared to capitalizing on foreign interest.

That’s largely because the first “Zorro” pic outperformed overseas, picking up $156 million foreign vs. $94 million domestic. “One of the reasons we chose this date,” said distrib prexy Rory Bruer, “was with an eye to the worldwide release, and to be able to go to Latin America during the All Saints Day holiday. Worldwide, we’re thrilled with the results/”

Exit polls showed the aud was 53% over age 25 and 54% were female.

Sony also snuck “Zathura” two weeks ahead of its Nov. 11 release at about 525 locations on Saturday.

Bruer said theaters were about 60% full and 88% of the aud rated the film in the top two boxes. Another round of sneaks is planned for next weekend.

As far as demographics for the two other new films, Universal found 63% of the aud for “Prime’s” debut was age 30 and older, and 70% was female.

Par said “Weather Man” attracted an aud that was evenly split between men and women and skewed 76% over age 25.

Budget on the pic, which had bumped around the Par release sked since last year, was $20 million, according to the studio.

Despite the healthy opening for “Saw II,” overall biz was down compared to the same frame last year. Nielsen EDI estimates total box office over the frame at $99 million. After five straight weekends running behind their 2004 frames, the fall season total of $942.8 million has fallen 0.2% compared to ’04 through the same point.

For the year, total box office of $6.978 billion is 6.4% behind last year’s tally.

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