'High School Musical 3' is top of its class

Industrywide grosses up 32% over last year

Disney's theatrical matriculation of "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" went deliriously well this weekend, as the telefilm-spawned sequel registered a genre-record $42 million in estimated opening grosses to top the domestic boxoffice.

Lionsgate's R-rated horror sequel "Saw V" also managed to cut into a meaty $30.5 million, roughly matching the bow of its bloody predecessor in the franchise that won't die and tying up second place on the frame.

The one-two boxoffice punch left a big mark on industry stats: The weekend's robust $135 million in industrywide grosses notched a whopping 32% improvement over the same weekend a year earlier, Nielsen EDI said. That made for the fifth straight frame of year-over-year weekend upticks.

Seasonal boxoffice is now pacing ahead of fall 2007 by 10%, while year-to-date grosses are tracking even with the same portion of last year.

Also this weekend, Warner Bros.' police drama "Pride and Glory" debuted as weakly as feared, with the Edward Norton-Colin Farrell starrer fetching just $6.3 million in fifth place. Additionally, Disney unspooled seasonal perennial "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" in 284 3-D venues, grossing $372,000, or a wobbly $1,309 per location.

Among films playing into sophomore sessions, Fox's Mark Wahlberg starrer "Max Payne" fell 57% to $7.6 million in third place with a 10-day cume of $29.7 million, while Fox Searchlight's female-fave "The Secret Life of Bees" dropped 44% to $5.9 in sixth place with a $19.2 million cume. Oliver Stone's George Bush biopic "W." from Lionsgate slid 49% to $5.3 million in seventh place with an $18.7 million cume, and Summit Entertainment's R-rated comedy "Sex Drive" veered outside of the top 10 on a 50% skid to $1.8 million with a $6.8 million cume.

In a limited bow, Universal unspooled Clint Eastwood's Angelina Jolie starrer "Changeling" in 15 theaters and grossed $502,000, or an auspicious $33,441 per venue a week before a scheduled wide expansion.

Sony Pictures Classics debuted Charlie Kaufman's "Synechdoche, New York" in nine locations and grossed $172,926, or an encouraging $19,24 per site.

SPC's French-language drama "I've Loved You So Long" bowed in six U.S. venues and held in four Canadian locations to gross $75,193, or a sturdy $7,519 per playdate. That shaped a cume of $316,263 for the Kristin Scott Thomas starrer.

Magnolia opened its vampire film "Let the Right One In" with four playdates and grossed $48,000, or a solid $12,000 per engagement.

And fledgling distributor Logo Features bowed the gay-themed drama "Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom" in five locations to gross $161,302, or an impressive $32,260 per site.

Elsewhere among specialty releases, Miramax expanded Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky" by 10 runs for a total of 19 and grossed $175,000, or a pleasing $9,229 per playdate, with a cume of $435,000.



And SPC's Jonathan Demme-helmed "Rachel Getting Married" added 43 engagements for a total of 112 and grossed $928,837, or a firm $8,293 per playdate, with a $2.8 million cume.

The G-rated "HSM3" -- which follows a pair of hugely popular TV movies on the Disney Channel -- drew audiences that were 74% female, with 54% of patrons under age 18.

"It's a property that was well known, and the film really delivers," Disney exec vp distribution Chris Leroy said.

The outsized "HMS3" bow outpaced a previous-best opening for a musical set by Universal's "Mamma Mia!" in July with $27.8 million.

"HSM3" also opened in 19 foreign territories, where it rang up $40 million during weekend and also topped the international boxoffice.

"Saw V" drew audiences that were 52% male, with 67% of patrons under 25. Its opening haul was just a tad lighter than the $31.8 million debut for "Saw IV" over the same weekend last year.

"We're ecstatic," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said. "We wanted to have an opening (number) with a three in front of it, and we do."

Rothenberg noted the studio's "Saw" films this week are set to become the highest-grossing horror franchise ever. The 11 films in Paramount's "Friday the 13th" franchise have grossed $317.8 million, while the "Saw" movies are at $316.2 million and counting.

"Pride" drew audiences evenly split between males and females, with a big 80% of patrons 25 and older.

"It's been disappointing the last few weeks for adult films," Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman observed. "The lighter fare seems to be what's doing well."

Two wide openers are set to unspool this weekend, which kicks off with Halloween on Friday. The Weinstein Co. bows Kevin Smith's R-rated comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," while Freestyle debuts horror entry "The Haunting of Molly Hartley."
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