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‘Saw IV’ looks to carve up box office

'Bee Movie,' 'Gangster' tracking strong

After a sluggish fall at the domestic box office, Hollywood is looking to this weekend and next to lure moviegoers back to theaters, beginning with the bow today of Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures’ “Saw IV” in 3,183 locations.

Tracking even more strongly are Universal’s Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe starrer “American Gangster,” directed by Ridley Scott, and DreamWorks Animation’s “Bee Movie,” which both open Nov. 2.

This weekend, the other wide opener is Disney’s offbeat Steve Carell romantic comedy “Dan in Real Life,” which debuts in 1,921 theaters in a counterprogramming maneuver by the Mouse House.

Frame will be crammed with limited debuts, including Sidney Lumet’s dark drama “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead,” Alison Eastwood’s “Rails & Ties,” Jonathan Demme’s docu “Jimmy Carter Man From Plains” and “Slipstream,” written and directed by Anthony Hopkins, who also stars.

“Saw IV” shouldn’t have any trouble slaying the competish and taking the weekend crown in what could be the highest opener of the fall (Disney’s “The Game Plan” is the season’s top opener to date with $22.5 million). The industry will be closely watching the performance of “Saw,” which comes amid worries that hardcore horror has peaked as a subgenre.

Whether “Saw IV” can beat the opening grosses for “Saw III” and “Saw II,” which opened to $33.6 million and $31.7 million, respectively, remains to be seen. All the “Saw” films have debuted over the Halloween frame.

In June, Lionsgate was jolted when Eli Roth’s hardcore horror sequel “Hostel: Part II” underwhelmed at the box office, opening to $8.2 million, less than half of the $19.5 million nabbed by “Hostel.”

Still, “Saw” is the flagship hardcore horror franchise, with the first three films grossing more than $223 million domestically. “Saw IV” is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who also helmed the second and third films. Tobin Bell returns in the role of Jigsaw.

With “Dan,” Disney hopes to capitalize by offering a feel-good adult title amid a sea of pics with darker storylines and politically themed plots. Film, directed by Peter Hedges, also stars Juliette Binoche and Dane Cook. Story concerns a widowed father of three who meets a woman who also happens to be his brother’s girlfriend. Jonathan Shestack produced, and Pierce Gardner and Peter Hedges scripted.

Among limited debuts, ThinkFilm bows Lumet’s “Devil,” toplining Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, in two theaters in Gotham. Story follows two brothers who rob their family jewelry store. Script was penned by Kelly Masterson.

“Slipstream” stars Hopkins as a screenwriter whose work begins to take life. Strand releases the film in six theaters in Gotham, New York and Chicago. It also stars Christian Slater, Fionnula Flanagan and John Turturro.

Warner Bros. bows “Rails & Ties,” starring Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden, in five theaters in Gotham and Los Angeles. Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s daughter, helmed from a script by Micky Levy in her directorial debut. Pic follows a suicidal woman who parks her car on a train track.

MGM releases “Music Within,” a biopic of Richard Pimentel, the Vietnam vet who became a champion for persons with disabilities, in 17 theaters in key markets. Ron Livingston stars.

Sony Pictures Classics bows “Jimmy Carter” in seven locations in Los Angeles and Gotham. Demme shot footage of the docu during Carter’s book tour for “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

Roadside bows director Doris Dorrie’s German docu “How to Cook Your Own Life,” about Zen priest and acclaimed chef Edward Espe Brown, in four theaters.

Other limited debuts include Magnolia’s “Mr. Untouchable,” which plays in 25 theaters, and Hannover House’s “The Rocket Post,” which bows in 24.

Platforming this weekend are MGM-Sidney Kimmel Entertainment’s “Lars and the Real Girl,” which expands from 201 to 698 locations, and Fox Searchlight’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” which goes from 21 to 296 locations.

On Thursday, Searchlight said it has moved up the release of quirky dramedy “Juno” from Dec. 14 to Wed., Dec. 5.

On the foreign front, “Saw IV” should scare up significant biz from day-and-date releases in 17 international markets including Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Spain and the U.K.

Though horror is a tricky sell in many markets, the three previous “Saw” installments have combined for over $190 million internationally, with “Saw III” taking in $84 million offshore.

Disney’s “Ratatouille,” which has won the last three weekends overseas, should remain a powerful player after topping $30 million last frame, when it launched in its final markets. The toon’s cumed $322.4 million in foreign box office through Wednesday.

Fox is likely to score from opening “Live Free or Die Hard” in Italy, its final major foreign market. Pic, known as “Die Hard 4.0” overseas, has been a solid international performer with $238 million — almost two-thirds of its worldwide total of $373 million.

Universal expands “The Kingdom” into Mexico and Switzerland. The actioner’s shown only modest traction so far internationally, with a $16 million cume, led by $5.2 million in the U.K.

Par’s launching “Stardust” in France, Japan and Spain. The fantasy’s pulled in a respectable $47 million overseas — $9 million better than its domestic total.

Other openings include “Eastern Promises” in Australia and the U.K., “The Heartbreak Kid” in Denmark, “Invasion” in Belgium, Holland and Spain and “Sicko” in the U.K. The Michael Moore docu has totaled $8 million internationally.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)