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Talking pictures: Horrors! 'Saw II' slashes 'Zorro'

'Zorro' sequel reunites Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas.
'Zorro' sequel reunites Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas.
Rene Macura, Associated Press

The lesson here is that you have to strike while the iron is hot.

There's already been much ado about last weekend's box-office results, which saw the gory "Saw II" open at No. 1 (with $31.7 million). The horror flick earned nearly twice what was made by the second-place film, "The Legend of Zorro" ($16.3 million).

That box-office race between two sequels was expected to be much closer — and many forecasters predicted "Legend of Zorro" would come out on top. The film's predecessor, the 1998 hit "The Mask of Zorro," opened at No. 1, with $22 million en route to a nearly $100 million haul.

But what Sony apparently didn't take into account was timing.

It was Halloween weekend, after all, when scary movies make a killing. Also, "Saw II" was a follow-up to a film that came out just last year. The "Zorro" sequel took seven years to make.

A few pundits have blamed the disparity on negative reviews for "Zorro." But reviews for "Saw II" were much worse.

On the other hand, good reviews seem to have helped both "Good Night, and Good Luck." and "Capote," which are doing well in limited release. ("Capote" is in local theaters now; "Good Night" opens on Friday.)

AND "ZORRO" DIDN'T HELP. There are only two months left in the year, and the overall North American box-office take sits at $7 billion. Obviously, Hollywood is going to need some real help just to reach the $9 billion mark achieved during each of the past three years.

But there have been several major hits this year:

"Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" currently leads the pack with $380 million

"War of the Worlds" has earned $234 million

"Wedding Crashers," $208 million

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," $206 million

"Batman Begins," $205 million

Other recent films breaking the $100 million mark were "Madagascar" ($193 million), "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" ($186 million), "The Longest Yard" ($158 million) and "The 40 Year-Old Virgin ($108 million).

However, there were also some embarrassing stiffs, such as Ridley Scott's pricey Crusades adventure "Kingdom of Heaven" ($47 million). And "The Island" ($36 million), which had a reported production budget of close to $200 million.

What's been overlooked is that theaters have been oversaturated with mediocre films. We've been averaging between four to five major studio releases each week. "Prime," "The Weather Man," "Two for the Money," "Elizabethtown" and "Stay," for example, have all bombed.

Still, such upcoming holiday-season releases as "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "King Kong" are expected to be huge hits.

IT'S ONLY THE TRAILER. A new theatrical trailer for Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong" made its debut this week.

As expected, the trailer features several breathtaking sequences, including one in which the giant gorilla is atop the Empire State Building.

The audience pretty much sat through it in stunned but very appreciative silence. Aside from a few coughs, the only sound was some nervous, excited giggling — courtesy of yours truly.