October 27, 2008 / 9:28 AM / 9 years ago

"High School Musical", "Saw" lead box office

<p>A scene from "Saw V" in an image courtesy of Lionsgate Films. REUTERS/Handout</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In one of the more unusual duels at the North American box office, a perky Disney romantic musical trumped the fifth installment in the grisly “Saw” horror series, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.

“High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” the first big-screen adaptation of Walt Disney Co’s popular TV movie franchise, sold $42 million worth of tickets during its first three days. The opening sets a new record for a musical, surpassing the $27.8 million bow of the ABBA-themed romance “Mamma Mia!” in July.

“Saw V” followed with $30.5 million, in line with the previous three installments. Moviegoers can expect additional sequels of both films.

The one-two punch of the disparate duo propelled overall weekend sales to their highest level in 10 weeks. The top 12 films grossed $120 million, according to tracking firm Media By Numbers, up about 40 percent from both last weekend and the year-ago weekend.

But the news was not all good. The new cop drama “Pride and Glory,” starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell, opened at No. 5 with just $6.3 million. It marks the second consecutive dud for Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros. following “Body of Lies,” starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, two weeks ago.

Disney, on the other hand, is enjoying a strong fall, first with “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” three weeks ago, and now with “High School Musical 3.” The movie also opened in 19 international markets, and was No. 1 in each of them, led by Britain with $13 million.

SONG AND DANCE

<p>Cast member Zac Efron signs autographs at the premiere of the movie "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" at Galen Center in Los Angeles, October 16, 2008. TREUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

“Music travels,” said Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Group. “Sometimes American comedy is difficult to travel, but this is a relatively simple story and a good quality, fun movie.”

The song-and-dance franchise has generated two smash TV movies and two chart-topping albums, and it made teen idols out of its stars, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale. The three films were directed by “Dirty Dancing” choreographer Kenny Ortega.

<p>A scene from "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" in an image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures. REUTERS/Handout</p>

Exit polling in North America indicated three-quarters of the audience was female, and just over half were under 18, Disney said. About two-thirds were families.

The plot of the new film brings the cast back to their fictional New Mexico high school, where Troy (Efron) must decide between pursuing a basketball scholarship or his song-and-dance dreams. The usual teen-angst issues ensue.

“Saw V” is the latest installment in the spectacularly profitable torture franchise that kicked off in 2004. Every October since then, a new “Saw” movie has opened at No. 1 in the $30 million range. Total sales peaked at $87 million for “Saw II,” and the film’s distributor, Lionsgate, hopes the new one will finish up in the $60 million range.

The studio, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp, said “Saw” will soon become the biggest horror franchise, with total domestic sales about $1 million short of the $318 million haul of the 11 “Friday the 13th” films.

Last weekend’s champ, the Mark Wahlberg thriller “Max Payne,” slipped to No. 3 with $7.6 million, taking its 10-day haul to $29.7 million. The film was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.

Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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