Los Angeles: Blood and gore beat swashbuckling at the weekend box office with horror sequel Saw II taking first place ahead of The Legend of Zorro, preliminary figures showed on Sunday.
Saw II, in which the notorious killer Jigsaw returns to terrorise eight hapless potential victims, is expected to earn $30.5 million in its North American debut, said box office trackers Exhibitor Relations Co.
Critics have called the film, starring Donnie Wahlburg, grisly and nauseating even for the horror movie genre.
Another sequel, The Legend of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, was set to gross $16.5 million for a distant second place.
The movie, which has the masked Zorro trying to foil a plot against California's statehood, opened to mixed reviews with some saying it compares badly with the original.
The romantic comedy Prime, in which Meryl Streep plays a therapist whose son dates one of her patients played by Uma Thurman, opened in third, earning about $6.4 million.
Dreamer, the story of a determined young girl who puts her faith in an injured racehorse, came in fourth, earning $6.3 million.
The clay-animated comedy Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, featuring an eccentric inventor and his hyper-intelligent dog, followed with earnings of $4.4 million.
The dark comedy The Weatherman, featuring Nicholas Cage as an insecure television weather forecaster and Michael Caine as his disapproving father, opened in sixth place with earnings of $4.2 million.
Last week's leader, Doom, based on the popular video game, fell to seventh place and was expected to generate $4.1 million.
Rounding out the top 10 were North Country, a true-life drama about a female miner played by Charlize Theron who fights sexual harassment on the job, which earned $3.6 million.
Another horror film, The Fog, about a California coastal town engulfed by a fog full of ghosts, followed with $3.3 million in earnings and the thriller Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster, with $2.6 million.
Final weekend figures are due out on Monday.