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 $US30.5 million ($A40.07 million) worth of tickets in its first three days since October 28, well above industry expectations of a bow in the $US20 million ($A26.28 million) range. Its little-heralded predecessor kicked off with $US18 million ($A23.65 million) a year ago on its way to $US55 million ($A72.26 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 $US16.5 million ($A21.68 million) in its first three days. The previous film started with $US22 million ($A28.91 million) and finished with $US94 million ($A123.51 million).
Two other films entered the fray, with modest results. Prime, a comedy starring Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep, opened at No.3 with $US6.4 million ($A8.41 million), and The Weather Man, starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine, charted at No.6 with $US4.2 million ($A5.52 million).
Last weekend's champion, the video game-inspired sci-fi thriller Doom, collapsed to No.7 with $US4.1 million ($A5.39 million), taking the 10-day haul for the $US60 million ($A78.83 million) film to $US22.9 million ($A30.09 million).
Rounding out the top five were the equine fable Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story, with $US6.3 million ($A8.28 million) at No.4 in its second weekend; and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit at No.5 with $US4.4 million ($A5.78 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, capitalising 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 totalled $US27 million ($A35.47 million). The comparable figure for the previous film in the same countries was $US22.3 million ($A29.3 million).
The new film was No.1 in 40 countries, and its best scores were in France ($5.8 million), Britain ($3.3 million) and Spain ($2.8 million). Columbia is a unit of Sony Corp.
Prime stars Thurman as a woman who falls in love with the son (Bryan Greenberg) of her therapist (Streep). It played mostly to older women, a demographic that failed to support such recent entries as North Country and In Her Shoes. Along with Doom, Prime was released by distributor Universal Pictures, a unit of NBC Universal, which is controlled by General Electric Co.
The Weather Man stars Cage as a TV meteorologist in Chicago. Distributor Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc, described the $US20 million ($A26.28 million) melodrama as "a labour of love" for the actor and director, Gore Verbinski.
Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story was released by DreamWorks LLC, which is closely held. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was released by DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.
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