The Saw series has been a Halloween weekend custom of sorts for the last six years. It debuted in third place on Halloween weekend 2004, where it opened with $18 million behind the second weekend of The Grudge and the opening weekend of Ray. From 2005 until 2009, Saw ruled the annual Halloween roast, with $30-33 million opening weekends in the Halloween or pre-Halloween weekend. Last year, it didn't quite go as planned. Fueled by viewer antipathy over the dull and listless Saw V, and the wide-release of the slow-building Paranormal Activity, Saw VI (ironically the best film in the Saw series) crumbled over the weekend before Halloween, opened with just $14 million before ending with just $27 million. This year, Lionsgate went back to the safety of Halloween weekend, and declined to open directly against Paranormal Activity 2. With ads (trailer 1 and trailer 2) touting the 3D gimmickry and alleging that Saw VII would be the final chapter in the series, could the long-running franchise regain some of its lost box office luster. The answer? Not really...
Saw VII 3D (review) opened with $24.2 million over its first weekend, which includes $1.7 million worth of advance-night screenings. Over 90% of the tickets were sold for the 3D version, meaning that higher ticket prices and the lack of direct opening-weekend competition did more than any retained luster. In terms of attendance, Saw 3D had the second-lowest number of tickets sold, behind the original film. This is not a glorious comeback, but rather inflated ticket prices creating the impression of bolstered numbers. Ironically, if the $24.2 million estimate holds, Saw VII will have pulled off a record opening weekend for a 'part 7' of an ongoing franchise, which it will keep for exactly three weeks until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I (trailer) opens. As it is, I'm sure Diamonds are Forever and Star Trek: Generations sold far more tickets on their respective opening weekends.
The real question is how leggy this seventh chapter will be. Saw films notoriously have terrible legs, with the series averaging a horrible 2.27x weekend-to-final gross-multiplier (Saw IV, Saw V, and Saw VI all did over 50% of their business over opening weekend), 3D films seem to have a way of stemming the blood-flow of even the most frontloaded franchises, mainly by keeping their premium venues longer. So we'll have the 3D effect (to the extent that the deluge of 3D content doesn't negate the above point) against the fact that the seventh chapter was arguably the worst in the series, and a spit-in-the-face to those of us who actually liked this unfairly maligned series and wanted some kind of worthwhile finale. So call it 2.28x and give it a probable finish of $55 million. So farewell Jonathan Kramer. We shall miss your low-key gravitas and rampant moral hypocrisy.
Coming in second place was Paranormal Activity 2, which dropped just 59% in its second weekend. Considering that the film had one of the most frontloaded opening weekends ever, a drop under 60% is downright impressive. That gives the film a $16.5 million second weekend, and a ten-day total of $65.6 million. It probably won't top $100 million, but it's not too bad for a mere $3 million investment. For what it's worth, the film is actually playing like an inflated variation of The Ring Two, which opened with $35 million in a severely frontloaded opening weekend and had $57 million in the bank by day ten (it too was a cash-in sequel to a word-of-mouth phenomenon). It the pattern holds, Paranormal Activity 2 will end with about $87 million. Ironically, Paranormal Activity could very well become the new Saw series. As long as Paramount keeps the budgets under $10 million, they can happily crank these out every Halloween until the next horror franchise dethrones it. The king is dead, long live the new king.
The only major limited release news was the soft-ish debut of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which opened with $915,000 on 153 screens. It's a touch better than the opening for The Girl Who Played With Fire, so it could theoretically equal the $7.5 million that part II garnered, if not the $10 million that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo grossed early this year. For what it's worth, this franchise is basically a mediocre television procedural with a touch more kink, and it's all the more apparent that the films don't gain anything for theatrical exhibition. I bent over backwards to be fair to the first picture, but The Girl Who Played With Fire bored me silly, playing so much like a mediocre episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit that I instinctively thought that it too would be improved by bringing back Richard Belzer. In other limited-release news, Welcome to the Rileys opened with $45,000 on ten screens. Just you watch for headlines screaming that Kristen Stewart isn't a star because this low-budget indie didn't open like Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
In other holdover news, Jackass 3D dropped another 60% in weekend three, but still passed the $100 million mark. With $101 million, it is now the second-highest grossing documentary of all-time, behind the $119 million-grossing Fahrenheit 9/11. Red dropped a mere 28% in weekend three, for a 17-day total of $58 million. Red is now the second-largest non-Twilight grosser in Summit Entertainment history, behind the $79 million-grossing Knowing. Secretariat dropped just 27% in its fourth weekend, making it the third consecutive drop under 28% for the horse-racing drama. The Diane Lane vehicle, which has had better legs than any other movie in wide release this year, has grossed $44 million on a $35 million budget and should play for awhile. Conviction expanded into wide release, with so-so results. The Hillary Swank true-life legal drama pulled in $1.825 million on 565 screens for a $2.3 million cumulative total. Finally, Clint Eastwood's Hereafter dropped 47% in weekend two of wide release. It now has a total of $22 million.
That's it for this weekend. Join us next weekend for the start of the holiday movie season. Dreamworks unleashes the year's second animated cartoon about a super-villain, Megamind. Warner Bros gives us the Robert Downey Jr/Zach Galifianakis comedy Due Date. Lionsgate releases Tyler Perry's would-be Oscar bait For Colored Girls. In limited release, we get Danny Boyle's true-life survival tale 127 Hours, the Elliot Spitzer documentary Client 9, and a film based on the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame: Fair Game.