By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A sadistic serial killer named Jigsaw carved up Zorro at the Halloween box office in North America as moviegoers opted for the gruesome thrills of "Saw II" over the light comedy of "The Legend of Zorro."
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "Saw II" sold $30.5 million worth of tickets in its first three days since October 28, well above industry expectations of a bow in the $20 million range. Its little-heralded predecessor kicked off with $18 million a year ago on its way to $55 million.
"The Legend of Zorro," reuniting Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a sequel to the 1998 breakthrough "The Mask of Zorro," followed at No. 2 with $16.5 million in its first three days. The previous film started with $22 million and finished with $94 million.
Two other films entered the fray, with modest results. "Prime," a comedy starring Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep, opened at No. 3 with $6.4 million, and "The Weather Man," starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine, charted at No. 6 with $4.2 million.
Last weekend's champion, the videogame-inspired sci-fi thriller "Doom," collapsed to No. 7 with $4.1 million, taking the 10-day haul for the $60 million film to $22.9 million.
Rounding out the top five were the equine fable "Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story," with $6.3 million at No. 4 in its second weekend; and "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" at No. 5 with $4.4 million in its fourth.
"Saw II" stars Donnie Wahlberg as a corrupt cop who must work with a cancer-ridden killer to free a group of people, including the cop's son, from a grisly death in a booby-trapped house. The R-rated film was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who co-wrote the script with Leigh Whannell, the writer and co-star of the original. It was released by Lions Gate Films, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.
To the chagrin of critics, "The Legend of Zorro" turns Banderas' swashbuckler into a family man having issues with his wife (Zeta-Jones) and son (Adrian Alonso). As with the first film, it was directed by Martin Campbell.
While its bow fell short of its predecessor's, distributor Columbia Pictures was focused more on the international picture. The film, capitalizing on All Saints' day in Europe and Latin America and establishing a three-week buffer before "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," opened in 50 countries, and totaled $27 million. The comparable figure for the previous film in the same countries was $22.3 million.
The new film was No. 1 in 40 countries, and its best scores were in France, Britain and Spain. Columbia is a unit of Sony.
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