‘Saw’ shows teeth

Scares up $34 mil; 'Fire' flames out

Halloween was lucky again this year for Lionsgate, which grossed $34.3 million for the third installment of its slasher series “Saw” — the biggest bow in the company’s history.

Frame’s only other new wide release, Focus Features’ political drama “Catch a Fire,” flamed out, taking in just over $2 million from 1,305 locations and missing out on the top 10.

On the kudos frontlines, Clint Eastwood’s war epic “Flags of Our Fathers” expanded its campaign to an additional 314 locations but came up behind Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” — which dropped just 27% in its fourth frame to land at No. 2 — and Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” at No. 3.

Paramount’s “Flags” took in another $6.3 million on 2,190 battlefields, lifting cume to just under $20 million.

Pic — which dropped 38%, with the added screens — is playing on par with Eastwood’s “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby,” which both gathered steam as they rolled into awards season.

The starry “Departed” is firing on word of mouth, now drawing auds that usually turn up for just a few pics per year, according to Warner Bros. distrib honcho Dan Fellman.

Having hit $91 million, pic will be Scorsese’s biggest grosser ever.

As for “Fire,” Focus had been hoping to repeat the success of last year’s Third World thriller “The Constant Gardener,” but “Fire” was contending with some heated fall competish over the frame from serious-minded pics including “Flags” and Sony’s “Running With Scissors,” which joined the top 10 after expanding by 578 playdates.

“Scissors” showed some strength after a solid, but not spectacular, start a week ago, taking in $2.5 million for a per-engagement average of $4,352. Cume is just over $2.8 million.

Sony also had Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” land in the top 10, taking in $2.8 million to earn a ninth place finish, just ahead of the studio’s “Scissors.” Pic is playing on just 859 screens.

Meanwhile, in overseas markets, Fox’s “The Devil Wears Prada” passed $250 million worldwide — an anomaly for an American, female-skewing comedy.

In the specialty sector, Paramount Vantage solidly launched arty ensemble pic “Babel,” on seven screens to $366,000 and a per-engagement average of $52,258. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal star.

The Weinstein Co. bowed its politically minded Dixie Chicks docu “Shut Up and Sing!” to $50,798 on four screens for an average of $12,700.

Disney’s magic-themed “Prestige,” starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, raised its cume to $28.8 million in its second frame by taking in $9.6 million from 2,281.

Just as some industry watchers questioned whether the horror trend is sputtering — with some formerly solid franchises flaring out — “Saw III” marked the biggest opening for an R-rated pic since “Troy” bowed in May 2004. Previous “Saw” pic launched a year ago to $31.7 million.

Sony’s “The Grudge 2,” by comparison, slipped 57% in its third frame to the No. 8 spot, having taken in $36 million to date. Pic’s predecessor cut up more than $110 million by the time its run was over.

“Saw III” had been tracking particularly well with the under-25 set, and Lionsgate brass chalked up the win to the continued commercialization of Halloween with that demo.

Pic, which played about evenly to male and female auds, used its newest grossouts to outgross “Saw II,” which wound up taking in $87 million domestically.

Barry Levinson’s political pic “Man of the Year” has not been very hot, either. Pic has cumed $28.8 million after three frames in release for Universal.

Sony’s CG-animated holdover “Open Season” remained in the top five, sliding only 25% to raise its cume to more than $77 million as one of the few family choices playing.

Fox also was aiming for kids with “Flicka,” which trotted to No. 6 with $4.9 million.

In platform release, Miramax’s “The Queen” raised another $1.9 million from 152; cume is $6.3 million. Fox Searchlight’s “The Last King of Scotland” took in $334,000 off 95, upping its cume to $2.4 million.

Samuel Goldwyn Films’ “Conversations With God” took in $149,120 off 64 in its bow.

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