Saw III may be all about death, but it easily lived up to expectations this weekend, slashing its way to a runaway first-place finish with $34.3 million, according to Sunday's estimates. Drawing an audience that was 55 percent male and 82 percent under the age of 35 (and that awarded the film a decent B CinemaScore review), S3 enjoyed the best bow yet in the Saw series. Indeed, it is already within blood-splattering distance of S1's $55.2 mil overall domestic take. So, yes, I think it's now safe to officially declare that the Saw movies have unseated It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown as America's top Halloween entertainment of choice. Later, Linus!
While the wizards over at Lionsgate get to work on a likely S4, let's take a look at what else went on this weekend. (And, oh yeah, no long-winded college-football talk this time around, out of respect for my main man Dan, whose beloved Northwestern Wildcats fought valiantly in the wind and rain in Ann Arbor yesterday, but came up short. Again.)
The top five finishers changed little from a week ago; in a rare collective feat, none of them dropped more than 40 percent. Credit a combination of good reviews, strong word of mouth, long legs, and a dearth of fresh competition. In its fourth weekend of release, The Departed (No. 2) scored another $9.8 mil to bring its cumulative earnings to $91.1 mil. Man, is it refreshing to see a movie so good and deserving keep chugging along and connecting with audiences! Next week, it will become Martin Scorsese's second release to cross the $100 mil mark, joining The Aviator. The Jackman/Bale/Johansson magic movie The Prestige (No. 3) fell two spots to finish with $9.6 mil; after two weeks, it has made $28.8 mil vanish from moviegoers' wallets. Flags of Our Fathers (No. 4) added 314 theaters but still fell in the rankings on a moderate $6.4 mil gross. And the talking-animal flick Open Season (No. 5) kept kiddies kicking with $6.1 mil; after five weeks it has banked $77.4 mil.
Such a strong No. 1 opener and solid holdovers meant there was little room for the week's other new wide release, Catch a Fire, to do anything of the sort. The historical thriller flamed out at No. 12 with just over $2 mil in receipts, making for a lowly $1,541 per-theater average. I've gotta say, this finish has me a little bummed and not just because it was the only result this weekend that I didn't come close to predicting accurately. I saw this film some time ago, and while I believe that it's certainly not a perfect movie by any means, I do think that it's representative of a kind of moderately budgeted, topical, and provocative drama that, unfortunately, Hollywood is making fewer and fewer of. And its failure stands to advance studios' sorry trend away from thoughtful fare.
Of course, then there's Paramount Vantage's Babel, an especially arty art film from the vaunted Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, which features two major names Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in a handful of scenes. By any measure, this movie is far less conventional than Catch a Fire, and yet, largely because it features one of the world's biggest movie stars, it debuted with a huge $52,527 average in seven locations. (Also premiering heartily in limited release was the Weinstein Company's controversial Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up & Sing, which averaged $12,745 in four venues.) I know there isn't much that's new about my little diatribe here, but the illustrations this weekend happened to be pretty stark and the conclusion to draw is simple and sobering: Unless Brad Pitt or his A-plus-list brethren opt to work on projects like these (something you can bet they're not going to do consistently enough), meaningful movies like Catch a Fire and Babel are bound to go the way of Linus and the Great Pumpkin.