sawiv_bigtheatricalposter.jpgSUNDAY AM: Given that the Hollywood writers strike is pending against the studios and networks and could come as soon as midnight on Halloween, weekend box office seems like an absurd after-thought. So do the gross receipts when the No. 1 movie is Lionsgate’s disgusting Saw IV whose “R” rating comes from sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout. But the sickos who scream for this insanely profitable $250M franchise poured $32.1 million into 3,183 theaters from Friday through Sunday. (That’s comparable to Saw III‘s $33.6 mil opening in 2006…) So, once again, here’s an example of the public propping up hardcore horror just when Hollywood was starting to rethink making these kinds of disturbed pics.

In second place, Disney’s quirky romantic comedy Dan In Real Life debuted in only 1,921 venues but posted a decent $12 mil this weekend. Fortunately, Disney hired star Steve Carell for cheap. Talk about counter-programming, this feel-good flick is the polar opposite of the fall season’s many downer films, not to mention Saw IV and Sony’s holdover vampire fangfest daninreallife_posterbig.jpg30 Days Of Night which took 3rd place with $6.7 mil this weekend from 2,859 dates (down 58%) adding to its new cume of $27.3 mil.

The rest of Friday’s Top 10 pics were familiar film titles: The Game Plan (Disney) #4 [$6.28M, cume $77M], Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? (Lionsgate) #5 [$5.7M, cume $47.3M], Michael Clayton (Warner) #6 [$5M, cume $28.7M], Gone Baby Gone (Miramax) #7 [$3.9M, cume $11.3M], The Comebacks (Fox) #8 [$3.4M, cume $10M], We Own The Night (Sony/2929 Prods) #9 [$3.3M, cume $25M], Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas 3D (Disney) #10 [$3.3M, cume $10M]. Overall, this weekend’s box office is lagged last year’s by 3.6%

As for other box office notes, it was interesting to see whether Fox Searchlight’s synergistic PR ploy of having star Owen Wilson post-suicide attempt interviewed by director Wes Anderson on MySpace at midnight Friday (both mediums are owned by News Corp) will help speed up The Darjeeling Limited. The movie’s gross revenues did pick up noticeably from Friday (576K) to Saturday($719K) from 698 plays for a $1.7 mil weekend and new cume of $6.1 mil. This, despite reviews which said the interview was boring.

bella_galleryposter.jpgAlso, Roadside Attractions’ little known PG-13 Bella opened in only 165 theaters to make $1.3 mil this weekend but surprisingly had Friday’s 3rd best per screen average ($8,026). “Think there are some distribution guys around town wondering right now what the heck a Bella is?” an insider on the film boasted to me. Turns out it’s one of those Christian movies pushed by Grace Hill Media. And, despite so-so reviews, it did OK for an English-language film starring Mexican telenovela heartthrob Eduardo Verastegui (Chasing Papi) that reached the Latino and faith-based audiences with grass roots marketing. I hear church groups bought up group tickets. With less than a $3M budget, Bella surprised everyone at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival by winning the people’s choice award. Despite that, no distributor made an offer until, finally, Roadside came aboard. In this climate of filmed torture, it’s nice to see a socially redeeming film do a little business.

beforethedevilknowsyouredead_posterbig.jpgThis weekend also features lots of limited debuts as Oscar buzz starts to heat up. ThinkFilm released Sidney Lumet’s dark crime drama Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke in 2 venues this weekend where it made $73.5k for the No. 1 best per screen average ($36,750). MGM released the biopic Music Within with Ron Livingston playing a Vietnam vet promoting causes for the disabled: it opened with $45K from 17 dates. Alison Eastwood (Clint’s daughter) made her directorial debut in Rails & Ties starring Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden that took in $10K Friday from 5 theaters. Strand’s Slipstream written and directed by Anthony Hopkins, who also stars as a screenwriter, debuted in 6 dates for $6K. Sony Pictures Classics released Jonathan Demme’s documentary Jimmy Carter Man From Plains, based on footage shot during the ex-Prez’s Palestine book tour, for $10K in 7 plays. Roadside bowed director Doris Dorrie’s German documentary How to Cook Your Own Life. And two more pics platformed: Magnolia’s Mr. Untouchable, and Hannover House’s The Rocket Post.

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.