'Saw IV' butchers competition at box office

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LOS ANGELES, Oct 29 (Reuters) If it's Halloween, it must be time for the ''Saw'' horror franchise to scare up the top spot at the North American box office.

''Saw IV,'' the latest installment in the annual series about a sadistic serial killer named Jigsaw, sold about 32.1 million dollars in tickets during the weekend, according to studio estimates issued yesterday.

Opening at No 2 was the Steve Carell comedy ''Dan in Real Life,'' with 12.1 million dollars. Last weekend's champion, the vampire thriller ''30 Days of Night,'' fell to No. 3 with 6.7 million dollars.

''Saw IV,'' opened about 1.5 million dollars lower than its predecessor this time last year, breaking a pattern that had seen each new installment open more strongly than the previous one. But most franchises are usually running on fumes by the time the fourth iteration hits the screens, a fate that evidently has yet to befall ''Saw.'' Exit polling indicated that 89 per cent of the film's audience had seen all three previous entries, a sign of ''tremendous brand loyalty,'' said Steve Rothenberg, president of distribution at Lionsgate, which released the film.

Additionally, 68 per cent were aged under 25, about the same as with ''Saw III,'' Rothenberg said. He attributed the films' success to the ''creativity of the traps'' that portend a grisly demise for their victims.

The top grosser in the series is 2005's ''Saw II,'' which finished with 87 million dollars after a 31.7 million dollars start.

''Saw III'' took in 80.2 million dollars overall.

''Saw IV'' also opened at No 1 in Australia and Turkey, and at No 2 in Britain, Lionsgate said.

It marks the second domestic chart-topper in three weeks for indie studio Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp, following ''Why Did I Get Married?'' Filmmaker Tyler Perry's romantic comedy drama fell two places to No 5 with 6.3 million dollars, taking its haul to 47.3 million dollars.

''Dan in Real Life,'' from Walt Disney Co's Touchstone Pictures, stars Carell as a widowed family-advice columnist who falls for his brother's girlfriend, played by Juliette Binoche.

Its opening was within expectations, and Disney said it scored well in exit interviews.

The 10-day total for ''30 Days of Night,'' released by Sony Corp's Columbia Pictures, stands at 27.3 million dollars. The film, starring Josh Hartnett as an Alaskan cop battling a horde of zombie-like vampires, cost about 30 million dollars to make.

It was followed by another former champ, ''The Game Plan,'' which earned 6.3 million dollars in its fifth weekend. The Disney comedy, starring former wrestler Dwayne ''the Rock'' Johnson, has earned 77.1 million dollars to date.

The top new entry in limited release was 83-year-old director Sidney Lumet's crime drama ''Before the Devil Knows You're Dead,'' starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers tied up in a robbery gone wrong. It earned 73,500 dollars from just two screens in New York. The film will add six top markets next weekend as part of a gradual nationwide rollout, said distributor Thinkfilm Co Inc.

REUTERS SYU KP0842

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