Striking while the wounds of Saw were still fresh and promising more torment and carnage for blood-thirsty horror fans, Saw II out-grossed its predecessor's opening by 73 percent, while The Legend of Zorro's swashbuckling bid for the family crowd yielded about half the audience that The Mask of Zorro drew in its 1998 debut.
Saw II ripped $31.7 million from 3,879 screens across 2,949 theaters, buzzing past the first Saw's $18.3 million start and selling a bit more tickets than the similarly grisly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake's opening two years ago. According to distributor Lions Gate's research, 49 percent of polled audiences liked Saw II more than Saw, two thirds were under 25 years old, and there was an even split between genders.
The $4 million horror picture bore Lions Gate its first outright hit since Crash in May, and it set new distributor milestones for opening weekend gross, topping Fahrenheit 9/11's $23.9 million, and widest release, ahead of Lord of War. Saw II also had the best Halloween debut ever, beating Jackass: The Movie's $22.8 million, and it averted the sophomore slump that often afflicts budding horror franchises, including recent casualties The Ring Two and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
"First of all, the original Saw was a satisfying film for horror fans," said Lions Gate's president of domestic distribution, Steve Rothenberg. "The film left a good taste in their mouth. Then, in addition, the film had a great afterlife on DVD, selling over four million units." Rothenberg would not delve deeper into why Saw II resonated nor what its box office dominance means outside of Lions Gate's bottom line. "We're just giving people a film that's pegged to Halloween weekend," he said.
The Legend of Zorro limped to $16.3 million at 3,520 venues, making less than such recent adventure pictures as Sahara and Hidalgo. Distributor Sony's exit polling indicated that 53 percent of the audience was over 25, and 54 percent was female.
In 1998, The Mask of Zorro notched $22.5 million at 2,515 theaters, which would equal about $31 million today, adjusted for ticket price inflation. Waiting over seven years to produce the $75 million follow-up no doubt hurt, despite featuring the same stars, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and director, Martin Campbell. Sony's advertising drew from a context faded from memory, and, among recent sequels that took more than four years, the R-rated action pictures, Bad Boys II and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (also featuring Banderas), were the only ones to not lose viewership.
PG-rated Legend of Zorro swung for the family adventure crowd—following PG-13-rated Mask of Zorro, the genre took off with such hits as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, National Treasure and The Mummy movies. However, Legend of Zorro's marketing made the plot appear convoluted and non-descript, and it lacked the passion of the first movie, rendering Banderas' and Zeta-Jones' once sizzling on-screen relationship forced.
A Sony spokesperson pointed out that The Legend of Zorro was meant to be a "worldwide event"—after all, The Mask of Zorro grossed $156.2 million overseas. To that end, Legend bowed in 50 foreign markets and was No. 1 in 40 of them, grabbing an estimated $27 million.
Pushing its one joke of Meryl Streep's therapist wincing at an affair between her 37-year-old patient (Uma Thurman) and her 23-year-old son, Prime packed $6.2 million at 1,827 sites. While distributor Universal Pictures' consistent marketing theme helped, the romantic comedy, which cost a little over $20 million to make, needed to open up beyond its cloistered premise and to have a strong male lead to generate more business. According to Universal's exit polling, 63 percent of the audience was over 30, 70 percent was female, and most checked off the "humor" and "story" as their reasons for seeing the picture.
Paramount Pictures' warning to "bring an umbrella" wasn't a motivation to see Nicolas Cage's sad sack in The Weather Man. The comedy-drama took in $4.2 million from 1,510 locations. Paramount's research suggested that 51 percent of moviegoers were female, and 76 percent were over 25. A studio spokesperson called the picture a "labor of love" for Cage and director Gore Verbinski (The Ring), explaining that they took reduced fees to keep the production budget in the low $20 million range.
Among holdovers, Doom was decimated in its second weekend, devolving 73 percent to $4.2 million for a 10-day haul of $22.9 million. The fall was more precipitous than the similar Resident Evil pictures. Still, Doom didn't have the most dismal drop of the weekend—Stay saw 78 percent of its audience depart, leaving it with a $486,627 weekend for $3.3 million after 10 days. The supernatural thriller posted the tenth steepest second weekend decline on record.
Meanwhile, Sony conducted 520 sneak previews for Zathura on Saturday night. The family adventure, a follow-up to Jumanji, played at 60 percent capacity, the studio reported, encouraged by exit polls suggesting that parents liked the picture as much as children. Zathura opens on Nov. 11.
• 9/12/05 - 'Exorcism' Torments Top Spot
• 4/18/05 - 'Horror' Takes Toll on Tax Weekend
• 3/21/05 - 'Ring Two' Opens Well
• 2/7/05 - 'Boogeyman' Creeps Into First
• 11/1/04 - 'Ray,' 'Saw' See Robust Bows
• Review - 'The Legend of Zorro'
• Review - 'Prime'
• Review - 'The Weather Man'
• Top Halloween Openings
• Period Adventures
• Biggest 2nd Weekend Drops
• Weekend Box Office Results
NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, Oct. 30 and was updated on Monday, Oct. 31 with actual grosses.