If it's Halloween, it must be time for the "Saw" horror franchise to scare up the top spot at the North American box office.
"Saw IV," the latest installment in the annual series about a sadistic serial killer named Jigsaw, sold about $32.1 million in tickets during the weekend, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.
Opening at No. 2 was the Steve Carell comedy "Dan in Real Life," with $12.1 million. Last weekend's champion, the thriller "30 Days of Night," fell to No. 3 with $6.7 million.
"Saw IV," opened about $1.5 million lower than its predecessor this time last year, breaking a pattern that had seen each new installment open more strongly than the previous one. But most franchises are usually running on fumes by the time the fourth iteration hits the screens, a fate that evidently has yet to befall "Saw."
Exit polling indicated that 89 percent of the film's audience had seen all three previous entries, a sign of "tremendous brand loyalty," said Steve Rothenberg, president of distribution at Lionsgate, which released the film.
Additionally, 68 percent were aged under 25, about the same as with "Saw III," Rothenberg said. He attributed the films' success to the "creativity of the traps" that portend a grisly demise for their victims.
The top grosser in the series is 2005's "Saw II," which finished with $87 million after a $31.7 million start. "Saw III" took in $80.2 million overall.
"Saw IV" marks the second chart-topper in three weeks for indie studio Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment, following "Why Did I Get Married?" Filmmaker Tyler Perry's romantic comedy drama fell two places to No. 5 with $6.3 million, taking its haul to $47.3 million.
"Dan in Real Life," from Walt Disney's Touchstone Pictures, stars Carell as a widowed family-advice columnist who falls for his brother's girlfriend, played by Juliette Binoche. Its opening was within expectations, and Disney said it scored well in exit interviews.
The 10-day total for "30 Days of Night," released by Sony'sColumbia Pictures, stands at $27.3 million. The film, starring Josh Hartnett as an Alaskan cop battling a horde of zombie-like vampires, cost about $30 million to make.
It was followed by another former champ, "The Game Plan," which earned $6.3 million in its fifth weekend. The Disney comedy, starring former wrestler Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, has earned $77.1 million to date.
The top new entry in limited release was 83-year-old director Sidney Lumet's crime drama "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers tied up in a robbery gone wrong. It earned $73,500 from just two screens in New York. The film will add six top markets next weekend as part of a gradual nationwide rollout, said distributor Thinkfilm.