Moviegoers' choice: musical or mayhem?

'High School Musical 3,' 'Saw V' open wide this weekend

This weekend's boxoffice showdown between a Hollywood musical and an R-rated gorefest might seem like someone's idea of a sick joke, except for one simple fact: Both films likely will make out like bandits.

The musical is "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," Disney's big-screen adaptation of its Disney Channel hit. And the blood-spattered horror film is Lionsgate's "Saw V," which bows exactly a year after "Saw IV" opened with $32 million in vivid proof that the franchise still had plenty of, uh, life left in it.

Both films aim for youthful moviegoers, but their target audiences couldn't be more different in what studio executives like to call their "psychographics." Together, their market impact amounts to a double-barreled blast of boxoffice bang as the industry seeks to mark a fifth straight session of weekend-over-weekend upticks.

"HSM3," starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, looks to ring up more than $35 million in a likely chart-topping performance that could prove to be the biggest musical opening of all time. Online ticketer Fandango said that 86% of its recent sales were for the Disney release, with "Saw V" accounting for 7%.

"We have a very avid fan base, and it's pretty wide," Disney distribution president Chuck Viane said. "So anything is possible."

Kenny Ortega, director of the franchise's 2006 and 2007 telefilms, also helmed "HSM3."

Universal's film adaptation of the stage musical "Mamma Mia!" set a genre record in July with a first-weekend haul of $27.8 million en route to $120 million overall domestically. Miramax's "Chicago" remains the top domestic grosser following its $171 million theatrical run in 2002-03.

The latest "Saw" installment, starring Tobin Bell and Julie Benz, stands a good chance of matching its franchise predecessor's bow, and an opening of at least $25 million is considered a lock. Factors including World Series competition could prove telling, but execs aren't concerned that youth magnet "HSM3" will pull prospective moviegoers away from "Saw V."

"We're certainly not going to be compete against each other," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said. "The films should be complementary."

Warner Bros. has the frame's third wide opener -- "Pride and Glory," a New Line production starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. The police drama has been tracking softly in prerelease surveys, and its weekend tally could be limited to the single-digit millions.

Disney also will mount its annual rerelease of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" in more than 280 3-D auditoriums. Many theater operators are building Halloween-themed parties around the release this weekend and next, Viane said.

Universal's Clint Eastwood-directed period drama "Changeling," starring Angelina Jolie, numbers among the session's limited bows. Notable expansions include Miramax's continued rollout of Mike Leigh's well-reviewed "Happy-Go-Lucky."

Collectively, the boxoffice for this weekend's releases compare with a year-earlier frame that registered $102.4 million in industrywide grosses. Disney's Steve Carell starrer "Dan in Real Life" was the session's second-biggest opener with $11.8 million.
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