'Saw 3D' Aims to Stop Franchise's Down Streak at Box Office

VIDEO: The similarly targeted 'Paranormal Activity 2,' in its second weekend, could impact opening grosses.

Rival studios are staying out of the way of the extra-dimensional buzz saw of "Saw 3D" this weekend.

Lionsgate has released a new "Saw" pic just before Halloween each year since 2004, but the marketplace draw of "Saw" films has been on the wane for a few years.

A franchise-best bow was achieved in 2006, when "Saw III" debuted with $33.6 million and fetched a total $80.3 million in U.S. and Canadian coin. The film series' top theatrical run came a year earlier, with "Saw II" collecting $87 domestically after bowing with $31 million.

"Saw VI" unspooled last October with a disappointing $14.1 million and rang up $27.9 million overall domestically. But execs figure the franchise riches will return with the first 3D installment, which also is described as the final chapter in the horror series.

Meanwhile, Paramount's haunted house pic "Paranormal Activity 2" -- last weekend's No. 1 movie with a $40.7 million opening -- is expected to post a big decline in its sophomore session. But even a 60% drop would yield $16 million for the frame and likely the weekend's silver medal.

It will bear watching whether the similarly targeted "Paranormal 2" impacts opening grosses for "Saw 3D."

"In a perfect world, it would be great if there was no direct competition," Lionsgate executive vp distribution David Spitz said. "But 'Saw 3D' is tracking really well, and we think it's going to have a good weekend."

The session's sole wide opener, "Saw 3D" will play in more than 2,100 3D locations and almost 2,808 total theaters. Midnight performances alone in most locations should contribute single-digit millions, with "Saw 3D" expected to reach north of $20 million through Sunday.

The most expensive production in the torture franchise, production costs on "Saw 3D" are estimated at less than $20 million.

Elsewhere among this weekend's notable holdover titles, Warner Bros. will be eager to build on the solid, if unsensational, start for the Clint Eastwood-helmed drama "Hereafter." Skewing 80% to patrons ages 30 or older, the Matt Damon starrer rang up $12.3 million and played best in major markets.

On an industrywide basis, the weekend will be compared with a $91 million Halloween 2009 session topped by the $23.2 million bow of Sony's Michael Jackson doc "This Is It."

The trick-or-treat holiday fell on a Saturday last year, hampering even horror pics a bit with so many younger moviegoers preoccupied by Halloween activities. Halloween falling on Sunday this year represents much less of a challenge, but it was still enough of a potential distraction to help scare away other distributors when scheduling their fall wide openers.

Lionsgate execs will rest secure in the knowledge that the original "Saw" unspooled on an identical Halloween weekend in 2004 and fetched a sweet $18.3 million en route to a $55.2 million domestic haul.

Year-to-date, industry box office is pacing 3% ahead of last year at $8.65 billion.

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