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''Saw IV'' is No. 1 on another down weekend

As expected, the fourth horror flick in the franchise brought in a great debut number ($32.1 mil) — but it’s still not enough to boost overall box office

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Saw IV

The fall box office continued its sluggish ways this weekend, as even the expected huge opening of Saw IV couldn’t stop what feels like a slow death at the ticket booth.

Certainly, the torture-horror flick did its best to keep the movie business alive while making a financial killing: Saw IV easily cut up the competition, bringing in $32.1 million, according to Sunday’s estimates. That’s in line with the debuts of its two immediate predecessors — Saw II, which premiered with $31.7 mil in 2005, and Saw III, which bowed to a slightly higher $33.6 mil just last year — and it guarantees that the series has plenty of blood left in it. In fact, let me go ahead and predict right now that Saw V will be an easy winner on Halloween weekend 2008 and that Saw VI will take the cake (and a few pints, of course) a year after that. I’d be willing to bet the farm on it. If I had a farm. Anyway, Saw IV is the third No. 1 opener of the fall for independent studio Lionsgate, after 3:10 to Yuma and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, so a high-five with a severed hand to the folks over there.

Moving from bloodshed to tears shed, Steve Carell’s heart-warmer Dan in Real Life wound up a solid No. 2 in its first three-day span, grossing a nice $12.1 mil. That’s a good total for a leading man who’s never really starred in a wide-release, low-concept domestic dramedy before. It thus edged out a slew of long players including 30 Days of Night (No. 3 on a 58 percent decline, with $6.7 mil), The Game Plan (No. 4 with $6.3 mil), and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? (No. 5 with $5.7).

Actually, just about every movie in the top 10 held on strong, with just two declining more than 38 percent — a fact that may look good at first glance but really underscores the sad truth of this fall’s box office: Most releases just aren’t clicking with audiences. I mean, if they were, The Game Plan, God love it, wouldn’t still be in fourth place after a month in theaters.

And while the occasional indie film shows some promise (such as this weekend’s widely praised Sidney Lumet thriller Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which averaged $36,750 in two locations), even the small-release fare hasn’t garnered enough mass appeal to keep the overall box office from being ”down” for six consecutive weekends (including this frame’s drop of 3 percent from a year ago). As sure as Saw VI will be the No. 1 movie two years from now, know that in the nearer future folks all over Hollywood will be counting on next week’s highly touted releases, Bee Movie and American Gangster, to stanch the box office bleeding.

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