LOS ANGELES – The Halloween spirit possessed movie-goers as Sarah Michelle Gellar's (search) fright flick remained the top draw for the second-straight weekend with $22.4 million.
The film biography "Ray," which has drawn Academy Awards buzz for Jamie Foxx (search) in the title role as Ray Charles (search), debuted in second place with $20.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The horror tale "Saw," about a serial killer who puts victims through grisly morality trials, opened at No. 3 with 17.4 million. The movie's cast includes Cary Elwes (search) and Danny Glover (search).
In narrower release, Nicole Kidman's "Birth" had a so-so debut, coming at No. 11 with $1.7 million in 550 moviehouses to average $3,091 a theater. Kidman plays a widow about to remarry when she encounters a 10-year-old boy claiming to be the reincarnation of her dead husband.
By comparison, "Ray" debuted in 2,006 theaters for a healthy $10,020 average, while "Saw" averaged $7,516 in 2,315 cinemas.
"The Grudge," starring Gellar as an American student tormented by a hateful spirit lurking in a Tokyo house, lifted its 10-day domestic gross to $71.3 million. A remake of a Japanese horror hit, "The Grudge" cost just $10 million to produce.
"It's not a trick, but it sure is a lot of treat," said Steve Elzer, spokesman for "The Grudge" distributor Sony.
Scary movies tend to plummet in their second weekend because hardcore horror fans already caught them in the first few days. Halloween weekend helped shore up "The Grudge," whose receipts fell just 43 percent, a relatively strong hold from its $39.1 million debut.
While "The Grudge" and "Saw" drew mostly younger viewers looking for Halloween scares, the audience for "Ray" was older, with three-fourths of viewers age 30 and over.
Films that play to older crowds tend to stick around longer at theaters, and distributor Universal Studios is counting on the movie's Oscar prospects to extend its appeal through awards season.
Interest in Charles has surged since his death last June, and Foxx has received enormous acclaim for his uncanny re-creation of the blind singer's mannerisms and spirit.
"This is the most talked about performance of the year. His performance even transcends the movie itself," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "And since Ray Charles passed away, people are so interested in the man. There's so much about him people didn't know that the movie is bringing to life."
Director Taylor Hackford, who had Charles' full support on "Ray," struggled for 15 years to get the movie made. Financed independently, the finished film was shopped around futilely among Hollywood studios until it found a home at Universal.
"Nobody wanted this movie, so as a result, we are celebrating like you can't even believe," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. "We expect a long life for this movie."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Grudge," $22.4 million.
2. "Ray," $20.1 million.
3. "Saw," $17.4 million.
4. "Shark Tale," $8 million.
5. "Shall We Dance?", $6.3 million.
6. "Friday Night Lights," $4.1 million.
7. "Ladder 49," $3.3 million.
8. "Team America: World Police," $3.1 million.
9. "Surviving Christmas," $2.6 million.
10. "Taxi," $2.15 million.