Sequels unmasked at B.O.

'Saw II,' 'Zorro' look to mark up B.O.

A pair of sequels — Lions Gate’s “Saw II” and Sony’s “The Legend of Zorro” — square off during a potentially respectable pre-Halloween weekend that could reverse recent middling perfs at the box office.

Universal’s “Prime” and Paramount’s “The Weather Man” will battle for fans of adult-oriented comedies, but the sequels appear to be showing the most significant traction following a month that hasn’t seen a single pic open above $20 million. “Flightplan” was the last pic to clear that barrier, lifting off with $24.6 million during the final September frame.

Still, despite the lack of a blockbuster, the fall has seen several decent runs from “Flightplan,” “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” The year-to-date gap has slightly narrowed from 2004, edging down to 6% behind as of Sunday.

Hopes for the final October frame appear highest for “Saw II,” debuting at 2,949 playdates a year after the original “Saw” stunned the biz with an $18.3 million opening — finishing third after the soph sesh of “The Grudge” with $21.8 million and the launch of “Ray” with $20 million.

“We are hoping to do equal or better than the original,” said Lions Gate distribution topper Steve Rothenberg.

“Saw II” has three advantages: the goodwill left over from the $55 million performance by the original, the absence of baseball competition thanks to the White Sox sweep of the World Series and a relatively clear field on the horror front aside from the third frame of Sony/Revolution’s “The Fog.” Its campaign has been designed to broaden the audience from the core of males under 25 to young females — a demo that’s been capable of driving horror biz on pics such as “The Ring Two” and “The Amityville Horror.”

“The Legend of Zorro,” opening at a near-saturation 3,520 engagements amid a major marketing push, represents a reteaming of Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and helmer Martin Campbell seven years after “The Mask of Zorro” scored solidly with $94 million domestically and another $156 million overseas. Studio strongly emphasized the family story, star power and swordplay in its promo efforts.

Sony vice chair Jeff Blake noted “Zorro” should travel well and is opening day-and-date in 50 foreign markets. “Like the original, we think we’ll do well here and even better overseas,” he said.

“Prime,” starring Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman, opens at 1,831 and represents Universal’s first comedy foray since “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” scored a late-summer success as the last laffer to top $100 million. Campaign has highlighted the interplay and hijinx between Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman as patient and therapist.

“The Weather Man,” a comedy/drama originally slated for an April release, launches at 1,510, with promotion emphasizing Nicolas Cage’s perf as a TV meteorologist whose life is in chaos. Studio moved the pic, directed by Gore Verbinski, back to the fall amid hopes for traction during the awards season.

Notable arthouse launches include Warner Independent’s “Paradise Now,” First Independent’s docu “New York Doll” and Sony Classics’ reissue of “The Passenger.”

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