'Saw III' cuts way to top with $33.6 million debut

'Departed' has legs; 'Babel' shows promise

The North American boxoffice opening of Lionsgate's "Saw III" at $33.6 million was a record-setter for the franchise and the company and was good enough for the studio to greenlight a fourth installment of the R-rated horror series. In contrast, Focus Features' "Catch a Fire" was a huge disappointment at the boxoffice, earning a meager $2 million for a 12th-place bow in the weekend's rankings.

In limited release, Paramount Vantage's "Babel" was a huge winner, bowing to $389,351 on seven screens for a per-screen average of $55,621.

Warner Bros.' "The Departed" continued to hang on strong, earning $9.8 million in its fourth weekend in release, while Paramount Pictures' "Flags of Our Fathers" dropped off significantly in its second week in release. Buena Vista's "The Prestige" had a little magic in its numbers, earning an additional $9.5 million, a 35% drop that brings its 10-day cume to $28.7 million. In contrast, Sony Pictures' "Marie Antoinette" suffered from weak word-of-mouth and dropped off 46.9% in its second weekend, for an additional $2.8 million. The film has earned $9.7 million in its two-week run.

Buena Vista also had some luck with its rerelease of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas." On 168 digital 3-D screens, the 13-year-old movie grossed $1.9 million, a 41% drop-off from last weekend but a huge per-screen average of $11,408. The film has grossed close to $6 million.

"Saw III," from Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures, received an overall grade of B from exit pollster CinemaScore. With a per-screen average of $10,612, the R-rated film was best received by the under-25 crowd. Divided pretty evenly male-female, "Saw III" stars Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith as serial killers on the hunt. Darren Lynn Bousman directed the third installment and producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules have enlisted writers to create a fourth installment of the franchise for Halloween 2007.

Sony Pictures boasted four pictures in the top 10, with "The Grudge 2" taking the eighth spot in its third weekend in release with $3.2 million, while "Running With Scissors" rounded out the top 10 with a $2.5 million take in its second week in release. Adding 578 runs to its limited opening bow, the R-rated film from writer-director Ryan Murphy earned a per-screen average of $4,320, respectable but below what was expected considering the film bowed last weekend to a per-screen average of $28,125. According to exit pollster CinemaScore, the film generated a C+ with audiences. Audiences were primarily drawn to subject matter, with women over 25 attending in the greatest numbers.

From Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Babel" marked the highest opening gross for the filmmaker known for interweaving story lines and playing with time. From Inarritu's long-time writing partner Guillermo Arriaga, the R-rated drama stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal. The film will bow in 13 additional markets this coming weekend before going wide Nov. 10.

In limited release, Newmarket Films bowed the controversial mockumentary "Death of a President" on 143 screens. The indie had trouble booking theaters because some opted out of playing the film due to its subject matter centering on the aftermath of the assassination of President George Bush. That must have effected grosses because the film earned a per-screen average of $1,970 for a total three-day cume of $281,778.

Weinstein Co. had better luck with its very limited release "Shut Up and Sing," the political documentary centering on the firestorm surrounding the Dixie Chicks after lead singer Natalie Maines insulted President Bush. Opening on four screens, the film boasted a per-screen average of $12,526 and a cume of $50,103.

Distributor IDP released the Samuel Goldwyn Film "Conversations With God" on 64 screens for a total gross of $150,355.
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