By John Young
Updated October 28, 2010 at 10:17 PM EDT

Image Credit: Brooke PalmerWith only one major release this weekend, it’s tempting to simply predict a first-place finish for Saw 3D and call it a day. However, this Halloween weekend’s battle between two horror films — Lionsgate’ seventh (and allegedly last) Saw entry and Paramount’s holdover Paranormal Activity 2 — may wind up closer than we anticipate. For one thing, there’s bad blood between the two franchises. When Saw VI opened last year on Oct. 23, its weekend victory was all but assured, especially considering that since Saw II, every Saw movie had debuted to at least $30 million. But instead, little Paranormal Activity, with its $15,000 budget, expanded wide and amputated Saw VI‘s box-office prowess. Paranormal Activity grossed $21.1 million that weekend while Saw VI had to settle for second place with $14.1 million (and a series-low domestic total of $27.7 million).

And yet, despite this cautionary preamble, I’m still picking Saw 3D over Paranormal Activity 2. Here’s why:

1. Saw 3D: $23.5 million

The wild-card element at play is 3-D. If everyone who saw Saw VI comes out for Saw 3D and pays the exorbitant 3-D surcharge, that would result in a sizable bump. (A Colbert bump would have been even better). Saw 3D should also benefit from being advertised as the final entry in the franchise. Moviegoers who saw only the first two or three Saw films may still be curious to discover how the whole enchilada ends. Despite these selling points, however, Saw appears to be a (horrible pun intended) dying series. Since Saw II, each successive film has cumulatively earned less than its predecessor. And 3-D doesn’t seem to have quite the same pull it had six months ago; for instance, that extra dimension failed to stir much interest in Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take, which premiered to a measly $6.8 million a few weeks ago. So I’m predicting Saw 3D will split the openings of Saw V ($30.1 million) and Saw VI ($14.1 million) and come away with around $23.5 million from 2,808 locations — still a tidy sum considering the film’s reported $11 million budget.

2. Paranormal Activity 2: $18.5 million

Considering how front-loaded Paranormal Activity 2‘s record-breaking $40.7 million weekend was, the film would likely be facing a significant drop even if Saw 3D wasn’t opening this weekend. But throw Jigsaw into the equation, and Paranormal 2 should anticipate a 55 percent fall.

3. Jackass 3D: $10.5 million

Even if Jackass 3D takes another tumble of about 55 percent, Johnny Knoxville and company should cross $100 million this weekend — a Jackass stunt no one saw coming.

4. Red: $10 million

Having dipped only 31 percent its second weekend, Summit’s action comedy should continue to hold up well. In fact, it could easily overtake Jackass 3D for third place this weekend, but I’m giving the stunt pranksters a slight edge. By the end of the weekend, Red will have practically matched its reported budget of $58 million.

5. Hereafter: $7.5 million

Historically, Clint Eastwood’s films are slow burners, and with little else in the marketplace for serious-minded adults, the supernatural drama Hereafter would normally be expected to slip only 30 percent or so. However, in light of the film’s average reviews and a C+ score from CinemaScore audiences, I’m predicting a (still commendable) drop that’s closer to 40 percent.

Also opening in 10 locations is the indie drama Welcome to the Rileys, starring Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart, James Gandolfini, and Melissa Leo. The third and final entry of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, also debuts in 123 theaters.