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'Saw,' the franchise that won't die (or will it?)

November 1, 2010 | 12:31 pm


Pretty much every horror director you talk to these days proclaims the end of torture porn. And yet "Saw," the franchise that most exemplifies the modern movement, won't go away (the hand-from-the-grave jokes write themselves).

Lionsgate's post-Jigsaw horror flick "Saw 3D" opened this weekend and, despite competition from "Paranormal Activity 2" and potential franchise fatigue for what is a remarkable seventh movie in seven years, still managed to win the weekend with a respectable $24 million.

The victory over "Paranormal Activity 2" is especially notable because the first incarnation of that low-budget upstart defeated "Saw VI" soundly last year on Halloween weekend, enough of an embarrassment to prompt Lionsgate to bring on then-"Paranormal Activity 2" director Kevin Greutert to direct the new "Saw." (Greutert was set for "Paranormal," but Lionsgate had the option to use him for "Saw" -- which, perhaps fearful of losing  more of its audience to "Paranormal," it then exercised in a move of corporate jujitsu.)

Of course, as my colleague Ben Fritz points out, even though the box-office numbers for the new "Saw" nearly doubled those of "Saw VI," the victory isn't as unqualified as you'd think. This weekend's figures were distorted by the new film's 3-D ticket surcharges, for one thing. And "Saw 3D" still came in below the opening numbers for the second, third, fourth and fifth "Saw" films (which all grossed in the $30-million to $34-million range). And "Paranormal Activity 2" will likely still beat "Saw 3D" by a wide margin when all is said and done.

There's another piece of box-office data that suggests the popularity of the franchise is slipping.

Even though the number of hard-core fans have ("Saw VI" excepted) stayed pretty constant for opening weekend, the number of casual fans has steadily declined. The second "Saw" film yielded only a 47% drop in its second weekend, suggesting fans were turning out en masse to see what the fuss was about. The third "Saw" film dropped 55% in its second weekend. And the fourth, fifth and sixth film brought drops that ballooned into the 60-something range.

The overall box-office totals, meanwhile, have declined with each film since the second one solidified the phenomenon back in 2005.

The people who love "Saw" still turn out to see it. Everyone else? Not so much.

Lionsgate has advertised this movie as the last in the series, even apparently incorporating plot points from what would have been an eighth film into this one. Of course, there was always a bit of a publicity element to that, and after this weekend, it's more than conceivable that the studio will find it in its heart to make one more. The hand always comes back from the grave, even if there are fewer people left to grab.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "Saw 3D." Credit: Lionsgate


"Saw 3-D" box office shows franchise still has teeth