LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – In the battle of horror franchises, "The Final Destination" scared off "Halloween II" to claim top honors at the weekend box office in North America, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.
"The Final Destination," boosted by higher ticket prices for its 3-D screenings, sold $28.3 million worth of tickets during its first three days, setting a record for the series.
The latest "Halloween" outing of masked serial killer Michael Myers opened at No. 3 with $17.4 million, compared to the $26 million bow of the previous entry.
In between was last weekend's champion, "Inglourious Basterds," with $20 million. After 10 days, Quentin Tarantino's violent World War Two movie has earned $73.7 million. Its early international total stands at $59.1 million after a $19.4 million weekend from 31 territories.
With yet another horror film, "District 9," claiming the No. 4 spot with $10.7 million in its third weekend, movie theaters were no place for the squeamish or intellectually curious.
Or for nostalgic hippies: Taiwanese director Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock," a comedy set against the 1969 music festival, opened at No. 9 with just $3.7 million for the weekend.
In the dying days of summer, overall ticket sales rose for the fourth consecutive weekend and appeared to set a new record for Hollywood's most lucrative season. Sales for the 18 weeks since the first weekend in May were $4.26 billion, up 1.5 percent from last year's record, according to preliminary estimates by tracking firm Hollywood.com Box Office. The rise was powered by higher ticket prices, since attendance was off by 2.2 percent.
The biggest movie of the summer -- and the year so far -- was "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" with $399.4 million through Sunday, while "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" was a distant No. 2 with $294.4 million.
Business traditionally slides in September as school resumes and the studios quietly release their leftovers before focusing on prestige offerings vying for awards consideration.
Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Final Destination" revolves around a youngster quickly running out of friends since he can foretell their brutal deaths. It's the fourth installment in a franchise that was launched in 2000, and marks the best opening in the series. In 2003, "Final Destination 3" opened to $19 million, and finished up at $54 million.
Just more than half the theaters showing the movie offered the 3-D option, for which ticket prices were $2 to $3 higher. In all, 3-D sales accounted for 70 percent of the haul, said the Time Warner Inc-owned studio. Warner Bros. had hoped the $40 million movie would break the $20 million mark.
"Halloween II" is the sequel to a successful 2007 reboot of a venerable series dating to 1978. Both the previous one and the new one were directed for the closely held Weinstein Co by rocker Rob Zombie.
The studio's decision to risk cannibalization by opening the movie against "Final Destination" and just one week after its "Inglourious Basterds" raised eyebrows among industry observers. But a spokeswoman said it was a very respectable start for a movie that cost just $15 million to make.
"District 9," with $90.8 million banked so far, was released by TriStar Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp. "Taking Woodstock" was released by Focus Features, a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal.