A bloody good time

'Saw' attacks prestige pix

The third installment of the “Saw” horror franchise — Lionsgate’s left-field slasher series that has managed to gross out auds to the tune of more than $142 million to date — should easily top the B.O. charts in time for Halloween. Pic could take a stab at $30 million.

Away from any bloody good fun, a glut of highfalutin holdovers and new arrivals will battle it out for the remaining spots — and awards momentum — as the fall scene kicks into high gear.

Universal specialty arm Focus Features will roll out its politically themed “Catch a Fire” on 1,305 screens, trying to catch the spirit of last year’s breakout “The Constant Gardener.” But in the way are holdovers “Flags of Our Fathers,” “The Departed” and “The Prestige.”

Also on the list of pics targeting the review-reading crowd are Paramount Vantage’s “Babel,” which will roll out slowly on seven screens; the Weinstein Co.’s political music docu “Shut Up and Sing,” on four; and Sony holdovers “Marie Antoinette” and “Running With Scissors,” which goes from eight to 586 playdates.

Clint Eastwood’s “Flags” — which Par opened on 1,876 screens last weekend to $10.2 million — will expand to 2,190 engagements.

“Flags” has been dogged by some press accounts debating whether it should have bowed more solidly. But Par sees the property performing in line with previous Eastwood efforts, including “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby,” which opened in the $10 million-$14 million range on a similar number of screens and wound up near or past $100 million once kudos season was over.

Eastwood has been hands-on in all aspects of the “Flags’ strategy and had been pow-wowing with Par this week about plans to send the film to an additional 314 engagements, concentrating on the pic’s Middle American strongholds.

“Saw III” should nevertheless cut a clear path to the top of the charts as the frame’s widest new rollout. Pic has little competish in its way as “The Grudge 2” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” are likely to slip off the charts.

Lionsgate is going day-and-date in the U.K. with “Saw III.” The first two pics combined for $102 million overseas.

For the frame’s other new wide release, “Fire,” Focus will mirror a fall strategy it followed with last year’s success “The Constant Gardener.” “Gardener” opened on 1,346 screens last September to $10.4 million on its way to a final cume of $33.5 million and an Oscar for star Rachel Weisz.

But still giving the competish a hard time should be Warner Bros.’ “The Departed,” which has been managing to keep its weekly drops quit slight by crossing over to all sorts of new auds.

Pic is destined to be Martin Scorsese’s biggest ever at the B.O.; cume is nearly $80 million. It finished last frame at No. 2 and is also making a strong run overseas.

Disney’s “The Prestige” — the Christopher Nolan-helmed period pic about dueling magicians played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale –finished at No. 1 last frame with $14.8 million.

Duking it out in the arthouses will be Samuel Goldwyn’s “Conversations With God,” Magnolia’s “Cocaine Cowboys” and Newmarket’s “Death of a President,” which has been refused booking at some major exhib chains but has still found 91 amenable engagements.

On the foreign front, “The Devil Wears Prada” looks likely to lead for the fourth straight weekend thanks to leggy holdover performances in major European markets. It’s launching in Belgium, Portugal and South Korea this frame.

As of Wednesday, “Devil” had cumed $111.6 million overseas. Comedy should have enough gas in the tank to eclipse the domestic cume of $124.5 million this weekend.

UIP’s expanding “Barnyard” into Brazil, Mexico and Spain in hopes of duplicating the toon’s decent domestic perf, with $11.2 million offshore so far and $84 million worldwide. Sony’s taking “Open Season” into Belgium and Russia with the foreign total at $29 million and the worldwide at $100 million.

UIP’s “World Trade Center” will also continue to be a player outside the U.S. International take for “WTC” has hit $72.4 million, $2 million more than the domestic cume.

Sony’s launching “All the King’s Men” into the U.K., its first foreign market, after a quiet $7 million Stateside run, and Fox is opening Russell Crowe drama “A Good Year” in the U.K., two weeks ahead of its domestic debut. Other openings include “The Guardian” in Taiwan and Thailand, “Monster House” in Sweden, “Step Up” in the U.K. and local entry “Seven Dwarfs 2” in Austria and Germany.

(Dave McNary in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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