'Departed' Out-Muscles 'Massacre'
No mourning for The Departed as the star-powered crime drama posted an opening befitting its pedigree, dispatching horror prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and comedy Employee of the Month to top the weekend in the process. Overall business was up six percent from the same frame last year.

The Departed, director Martin Scorsese's remake of the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs, dug up $26.9 million from around 4,300 screens at 3,017 theaters. Warner Bros.' $90 million cops-and-criminals conflation with a familiar cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson opened slightly higher than the last high profile entry in the genre, Miami Vice, and sold about as many tickets out of the gate as Warner Bros.' Training Day did on the same weekend in 2001.

Eclipsing Cape Fear's $10.3 million (which would equal $16 million today, adjusted for ticket price inflation), The Departed was by far Mr. Scorsese's biggest opening ever. However, it's also his first picture to open at over 2,000 theaters—in other words, his first picture to actually gun for a big opening.

Well-polished crime thrillers infused with significant star power have consistently lured moviegoers over the years, from Sleepers and Cop Land to Road to Perdition and Inside Man. The Departed's start ranks at the high end, though, as the genre rarely produces blockbusters, and the picture stood out with a bold marketing campaign, punctuated by Mr. Nicholson's antics.

"The Departed, in the tracking, was expected to skew male and older," said Dan Fellman, president of distribution for Warner Bros. "But the audience was 50-50 male and female and all four [demographics] quadrants were equally split." Fellman credited the cast, the reviews and word-of-mouth for the picture's opening as well as Mr. Scorsese's ability to mix comic relief with the blood-letting. "Even though it's violent, it's funny," added Fellman. "You're shocked by the visuals but laugh at the dialogue."

Meanwhile, $16 million prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning lost a chunk of its predecessor's audience, drawing $18.5 million from 3,600 screens at 2,820 locations. In 2003, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake debuted to $28.1 million on its way to $80.6 million.

As Exorcist: The Beginning and Red Dragon demonstrated, going backward is rarely as compelling as moving forward, especially for the horror genre. The trouble in sustaining a horror franchise is keeping the scares fresh—since these pictures are perceptual-bound thrill rides, once people get the gist, it's difficult to scare them again. Plus, hillbilly horror is in high supply (The Hills Have Eyes, House of Wax, etc.), diluting Massacre's appeal.

Employee of the Month, comedian Dane Cook's first headlining role in which he vies with Dax Shepard for Jessica Simpson, lifted $11.4 million from 3,100 screens at 2,579 sites. With a consistent premise, it fared better than School for Scoundrels, last weekend's romantic rivalry comedy that plunged 60 percent this weekend to $3.4 million for a $14 million tally in ten days.

Bolstered by the Columbus Day holiday and typical of its genre, Open Season eased 34 percent to $15.6 million. Sony's $85 million computer-animated comedy has nabbed $43.8 million in ten days. On the other hand, Buena Vista's The Guardian, which was relying on word-of-mouth to carry it through the month, dropped an alarming 47 percent to $9.6 million. The Coast Guard action drama has picked up $32.3 million in ten days.

In limited release, The Queen maintained its majesty with $401,978 at 11 venues, averaging a potent $36,543 per location for $634,788 in nine days. By comparison, suburban drama Little Children was modest in its debut with $97,953 at five locations, averaging $21,600 per site.


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Weekend Box Office Results

• Dirty Cop Movies

• Asian Remakes

• Franchise: 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, Oct. 8 and was revised on Monday, Oct. 9 with actual grosses.