'Zack and Miri,' 'Saw' face off against holiday

Just how big a scare will Halloween give the movie biz?

That’s the question going into this weekend, as debuter “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” and holdovers “High School Musical 3″ and “Saw V” all contend with a holiday that’s likely to distract their young-skewing auds.

Universal’s “Changeling,” which goes wide, should have less of a problem since it plays to an older demographic.

An overall soft frame is expected as the biz copes with its first Friday Halloween since 2003, when the holiday had a major impact. Disney’s tuner will most likely win the frame again, even if it takes a substantial 50%-plus drop after its strong $42 million bow. “Saw V” will likely see an even bigger drop, possibly more than 70%, since last year’s “Saw IV” fell 67% and didn’t have to cope with Halloween.

“Zack and Miri,” which the Weinstein Co. is bowing at 2,735 playdates, is looking to compete for the No. 2 spot with an expected bow in the low- to mid-teens. That would make it the lowest opener for star Seth Rogen but quite possibly the biggest for writer-director Kevin Smith, whose previous record was $11 million for “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001.

“There’s a chance (Halloween) will hurt us a little, but the reason we went out now is the lack of competition for our quadrant,” Weinstein Co. distribution prexy Steve Bonnell said.

The other pic with a shot at No. 2 is Universal’s Angelina Jolie starrer “Changeling,” which expands from 15 to 1,850 theaters. Clint Eastwood-helmed drama grossed a boffo $33,000 per play last weekend and appealed to a somewhat younger and more male aud than the studio expected given that it’s a period piece about a family tragedy. Two years ago, Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers” opened with a similar print count in late October and grossed just over $10 million.

Also opening wide this weekend is Freestyle’s horror pic “The Haunting of Molly Hartley,” which is expected to gross single digits from 2,652 playdates.

Warner Bros. expands Guy Ritchie’s thriller “RocknRolla” from 19 theaters to 826.

O’seas business

On the foreign front, Halloween won’t have much of an impact on moviegoing as “High School Musical 3″ expands and “Quantum of Solace” and “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” open overseas in a few major markets ahead of their U.S. launches.

“HSM3″ will lead the pack for the second straight weekend after hoofing its way to $41 million overseas at 3,045 playdates in 19 markets last weekend. It’s adding Belgium, Italy and Mexico, where the “High School Musical” franchise has spawned a local version, dubbed “El Desafio” (The Challenge).

In addition, “HSM3″ has already shown early holding power, with weekday grosses coming in at about $5 million each day to lift the tuner’s foreign take to around $60 million as of Thursday. Half-term holidays in the U.K. have pushed the Brit total past $20 million.

Sony’s “Quantum of Solace” should be a significant player with launches at 1,150 British locations along 820 in France and 149 in Sweden — a week ahead of most international debuts and two weeks ahead of the U.S. launch.

The 007 franchise has been golden outside the U.S. “Casino Royale” turned in a blockbuster foreign performance two years ago with $426 million internationally, led by $105 million in the U.K., as the Bondpic took in 72% of its worldwide total from non-U.S. markets.

Paramount’s “Madagascar” sequel is launching in the surging Russian market and Ukraine a week ahead of most of its other openings in an attempt to take advantage of holidays next week in those two markets. Foreign biz should be lavish given that the original cumed $339 million internationally three years ago.

“Saw V,” which took in $6 million from a modest launch in nine markets, expands into Brazil, Hong Kong and Russia. The frame will also see Oliver Stone’s “W.” move into its first major foreign markets with launches in Belgium, France and Holland.

“Burn After Reading,” which has cumed about $50 million overseas, opens in Holland, and “Death Race” debuts in Australia, Holland and Mexico.

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