LOS ANGELES – Horror swung a sharper blade than Zorro at the box office. With Halloween at hand, the bloody "Saw II" won the weekend with $30.5 million, almost double the $16.5 million opening of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones' (search) swashbuckling sequel "The Legend of Zorro," according to studio estimates Sunday.
The weekend's other big-name wide releases had so-so premieres. "Prime," starring Uma Thurman (search) and Meryl Streep in a romance between a thirtysomething woman and a younger man, debuted at No. 3 with $6.4 million.
Nicolas Cage's "The Weather Man," in which he plays a materially successful TV forecaster whose personal life is a tempest of disorder, opened at No. 6 with $4.3 million.
Hollywood's box-office slump abated from the double-digit percentage declines of recent weekends, though receipts still were down. The top 12 movies took in $86.3 million, off 6.5 percent from the same weekend last year.
"Saw II," featuring Donnie Wahlberg as a cop drawn into a deadly game with the serial killer of the 2004 horror hit "Saw," easily outdid the original movie's $18.3 million opening over last Halloween weekend.
Distributor Lions Gate (search), which acquired the low-budgeted "Saw" at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, rushed ahead to get the sequel in theaters just a year after the original's release. "Saw" did a respectable $55.2 million at the domestic box office, but the sequel got a big boost from fans who discovered the franchise on DVD.
"A lot of talk is devoted to the theatrical moviegoing experience being like a warmup for the DVD release. In this case, the DVD release of the first film was a warmup for the huge debut of the sequel," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Plus, it's a no-brainer. It's Halloween weekend."
"The Legend of Zorro," with Banderas' masked swordsman fighting a secret society aiming to ravage the United States amid California's statehood drive in 1850, came in well behind the 1998 summer hit "The Mask of Zorro," which opened with $22.3 million.
Considering ticket prices are up about one-third since then, "Legend of Zorro" drew only about half the crowds domestically as the first movie over opening weekend.
Distributor Sony (search) noted that solid returns in Latin America and Europe offset the weaker showing for "Legend of Zorro" on the homefront. In about 50 international markets, the sequel took in $27 million, up 22 percent from the debut of "Mask of Zorro" in those same countries, said Rory Bruer, Sony head of distribution.
"In regards to how you go about releasing your film, it's just a matter of what brings the most dollars in box office, whether domestic or worldwide," Bruer said.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Saw II," $30.5 million.
2. "The Legend of Zorro," $16.5 million.
3. "Prime," $6.4 million.
4. "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," $6.3 million.
5. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," $4.4 million.
6. "The Weather Man," $4.3 million.
7. "Doom," $4.1 million.
8. "North Country," $3.65 million.
9. "The Fog," $3.3 million.
10. "Flightplan," $2.6 million.