Box Office Guru Wrapup: HSM3 Soars to Dazzling $42M Opening

Jigsaw defeated by young singing whippersnappers.

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Recession be damned! Movie fans went on a spending spree at North American multiplexes as a pair of new sequels pumped over $72M into cash registers driving the overall marketplace to the biggest October weekend in box office history. Disney's High School Musical 3: Senior Year delivered a sensational opening in first place and was followed in second by a solid debut for the horror staple Saw V which proved once again to be the genre's most dependable franchise. Both hits tapped into built-in audiences thanks to their strong brands, even though the crowds could not have been more different. Ticket sales were up by a stunning 40% or more when compared to the corresponding frames from the past few years proving that the right product will continue to draw large audiences into movie theaters.

Kids and parents lined up in massive numbers to enjoy the singing and dancing extravaganza High School Musical 3 which launched with dazzling results grossing an estimated $42M in its first weekend of release. Averaging a fantastic $11,598 from 3,623 locations, the G-rated tale of squeaky clean Albuquerque teens, who all just happen to carry a tune really well, delivered the third largest October bow ever trailing just Scary Movie 3 ($48.1M in 2003) and Shark Tale ($47.6M in 2004) and the highest ever for a musical beating the $27.8M of July's Mamma Mia! The studio developed the brand on the Disney Channel with two made-for-television movies that became pop culture behemoths and took a leap with the third installment by having it graduate to the big screen where Mouse House execs hoped the fans would follow it to. And follow they did.


The fan base turned out in droves on Friday with a stellar $16.9M. Sales fell by 9% to $15.3M on Saturday indicating how intense demand was to see HSM3 on the first day. Online ticketing sites reported brisk advance sales for weeks. Disney is estimating a Sunday drop of 36% to $9.8M. With a reported budget of only $13M, the Wildcats tale is well on its way to becoming a cash cow especially when international box office and home video sales are bundled in. The franchise is made for repeat viewing which may not happen much at the box office given ticket prices for each sitting, but should surely be a factor on DVD where young fans can watch Zac Efron and crew over and over again. Musicals typically sell well overseas and even an all-American one like Senior Year already has a global fan base waiting to drop some Euros and Yen. Over the weekend, international ticket buyers in 22 markets spent an estimated $40M giving Musical a global debut of $82M with much more to go.

For the first time since the last presidential election season, a Saw film did not open at number one on the weekend before Halloween. Instead, the latest chapter in the wildly successful franchise Saw V settled for the runnerup spot but proved that the series is still alive and well the fifth time around with an estimated $30.5M in ticket sales this weekend. Averaging a brutal $9,965 from 3,060 sites, the R-rated torturefest dipped only a scant amount from debuts of its recent predecessors. The last four Saw films have bowed in the $30-34M range and are all among the top ten October openings of all-time. The weekend gross for part five was extremely frontloaded with Friday bowing to a gruesome $14.2M, Saturday tumbling a troubling 30% to $9.9M, and Sunday being estimated to fall 35% to $6.4M. The five Saw films have now grossed a combined $316.2M domestically with the franchise likely to approach $350M by the time the new installment leaves theaters, or $70M per pic before overseas and worldwide video revenues are added to the mix.


Led by the HSM and Saw sequels, ticket sales for the Top 20 soared to an estimated $129M. If estimates hold, it will top the $125.2M from the exact same frame in 2003 when Scary Movie 3 broke the all-time October opening record and led the overall marketplace to the strongest weekend ever for the month. Admissions were still higher five years ago though, with about 21 million stubs sold for the Top 20 then compared to approximately 18 million this weekend.

Mark Wahlberg's video game flick Max Payne dropped from first to third this weekend bringing in an estimated $7.6M. That represented a decline of 57% which was normal for this type of film. With $29.7M in the bank after ten days, the $35M Fox release looks to finish its domestic run with around $45M.

Despite the powerful launch of the studio's HSM3, Disney still fared very well with the hit Beverly Hills Chihuahua which slipped 40% to an estimated $6.9M. Sitting in fourth place in its fourth session, the G-rated family comedy upped its cume to a robust $78.1M.

Opening with weak results in fifth place was the police corruption drama Pride and Glory which bowed to an estimated $6.3M from 2,585 sites. Averaging a lackluster $2,447 per venue, the Edward Norton and Colin Farrell actioner was panned by critics and sat on the shelf for some time before Warner Bros. put the film out.


A pair of sophomores followed. Fox Searchlight's Queen Latifah-Dakota Fanning pic The Secret Life of Bees dropped a moderate 44% to an estimated $5.9M and upped its ten-day tally to $19.2M. The presidential flick W. suffered a larger decline dropping 49% to an estimated $5.3M for Lionsgate putting the sum at $18.8M. Final grosses should reach roughly $34M and $30M, respectively.

The Paramount hit Eagle Eye slipped only 27% to an estimated $5.1M and raised its total to $88M. Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe saw their political thriller Body of Lies gross an estimated $4.1M, off 40%, for a $30.9M cume. Rounding out the top ten was the horror title Quarantine which got butchered by Saw V's arrival collecting an estimated $2.6M, down 58%, for $28.8M to date.

Generating lots of heat in limited release was Universal's Angelina Jolie starrer Changeling which bowed in only 15 theaters but grossed an estimated $502,000 for a scorching $33,467 average. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the R-rated true tale of a woman whose son disappears in 1920s California earned mixed reviews from critics. The film's big challenge will come this Friday when it expands nationwide into over 1,800 theaters.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $116.4M which was up a sturdy 43% from last year when Saw IV opened in the top spot with $31.8M; and up 40% from 2006 when Saw III debuted at number one with $33.6M.