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'Exorcist' leads weekend box office

“Exorcist: The Beginning”  led the North American box office over the weekend, as moviegoers flocked to the resurrection of an aging franchise.
/ Source: Reuters

“Exorcist: The Beginning,” a film that had to be re-shot because the first version was not scary enough, led the North American box office over the weekend, as moviegoers flocked to the resurrection of an aging franchise.

According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, the fourth installment in the 30-year-old “Exorcist” series sold about $18.2 million worth of tickets in the three days since its Aug. 20 opening.

The comedy “Without a Paddle,” launched at No. 2 with $13.7 million. The teen romance “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” slipped to No. 3 with $13.2 million in its second weekend.

Last week’s champ, the monster saga “Alien vs. Predator,” combining the characters from two tired movie series, fell to No. 4 with $12.5 million.

The shark thriller “Open Water” jumped 12 places to No. 5 with $11.8 million in its first weekend of wide release. Also expanding this weekend was the quirky drama “Garden State,” which rose three places to No. 10 with $3.2 million.

Sales for the top 12 films totaled $102.9 million, according to tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. The figure represented a 16 percent decline from last weekend, but a 21 improvement over the year-ago period.

“Exorcist” stars Stellan Skarsgard as titular hero Father Merrin, who uncovers mysterious goings-on while drifting through Cairo in 1949 in an alcoholic haze. It was directed by Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin (”Cliffhanger”) who was hired in October when Morgan Creek Prods. rejected the version shot by “Taxi Driver” screenwriter Paul Schrader.

“They felt that Paul Schrader’s version was an introspective drama, in itself a very respectable movie and respectable themes,” Harlin said. “They just felt that when you say the movie’s name is ’Exorcist’ that the audience will expect to be scared when they are in the theater, and they won’t be happy if they are not scared, and therefore we made a movie that ... aimed definitely for the scare factor.”

Harlin said he was given eight weeks to organize a new script, recast roles and build a new set for the 42-day shoot. The film was budgeted at about $20 million, according to Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc (TWX.N).

“Without a Paddle” stars Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard and Seth Green as three urban adventurers who get into trouble with wacky locals while on a rafting expedition. It cost less than $20 million to make, said a spokeswoman for Viacom Inc. (VIAb.N)-owned Paramount.

After 12 days, Walt Disney Co. (DIS.N)’s “Princess Diaries” sequel has hauled in about $61.4 million. Anne Hathaway returns as a modern-day princess who must find a consort in order to secure her succession to a mythical kingdom.

“Alien vs. Predator” has earned $63.1 million after 10 days. The film was released by Twentieth Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.’s (NCP.AX) (NWS.N) Fox Entertainment Group Inc (FOX.N).

“Open Water,” loosely based on the true story of two divers accidentally left behind in shark-filled waters by their tour operator, has earned $14.8 million after three weekends. It was released by Lions Gate Films, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp (LGF.TO) (LGF.A), which acquired the film for a little over $2 million at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It cost under $500,000 to make.

“Garden State,” the writing and directing debut of its star, Zach Braff (of NBC’s “Scrubs”), has earned about $6.7 million after four weekends. It was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the arthouse arm of Fox Entertainment.