Slash and Burn: Texas Chainsaw 3D and Django Win a Gory Weekend

Leatherface and Tarantino please the crowds with R-rated bloodbaths

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Columbia Pictures

Like a post-New Year’s Eve hangover nightmare, the slasher film Texas Chainsaw 3D screamed into movie theaters and mauled its Oscar-wannabe competition on the first weekend of 2013. The sixth movie spawned by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper’s 1974 grindhouse classic, cut its way to a bloody-bountiful $23 million at the North American box office, according to preliminary studio estimates. But it wasn’t the only ultraviolent R-rated melodrama to lure audiences: Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s pre-Civil War Southern Western, earned a sturdy $20.1 million to finish second.

[UPDATE: In the final weekend figures, released Monday, Texas Chainsaw 3D actually grossed $21.7 million, about 6% below the Sunday estimate. Other movies in the top 10 finished within $400,000 of their predicted grosses.]

Early Jan. has become prime time for low-budget horror films. The junkie-vampire drama Daybreakers ushered in 2010 with $15.1 million its opening weekend; and last year The Devil Inside, an exorcism exploitation effort made for a paltry $1 million, scared up a Satan-tastic $33.7 million. TC3D, which cost $20 million to produce, didn’t reach Devil territory, even with jacked-up prices for the stereo glasses. It also couldn’t match the three-day $28.1 million grossed by the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot. But the new movie did much better than expected; few industry handicappers predicted it would land at the top of the charts.

(READ: Corliss’s appraisal of the 2012 box office)

Ignoring most of the sequels and prequels to Hooper’s original, TC3D posits that a young woman (Alexandra Daddario of Percy Jackson & the Olympians) has inherited a Lone Star estate and finds gruesome family secrets waiting, including the legendary chainsaw master Leatherface. The stars of the 1974 film, Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hensen (Leatherface the First and Best), have cameos, but a third of the movie’s younger customers said the big draw was the presence of R&B star Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson as the heroine’s boyfriend. The audience, which skewed solidly young (64% under the age of 25) and slightly female (52%), awarded TC3D a C-plus rating, as polled by the CinemaScore survey of early attendees. Truth is, high grades don’t matter much to a low-budget horror film, whose SWAT-team agenda is to burst in, kill everybody and scram.

(FIND: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the all-TIME Top 25 Horror Movies list)

Django Unchained, Tarantino’s mashup of ’60s Spaghetti Westerns and ’70s Blaxploitation epics, had a longer-term strategy: open on Christmas day as a blistering alternative to the season’s stately dramas and family comedies, then stick around and make enough money to get the attention of the elderly Hollywoodians who give out the Oscars. Consider the first goal accomplished. Whereas Tarantino’s last film, Inglourious Basterds, took 23 days to reach $100 million in Aug.-Sep. 2009, Django made it to the nine-figure mark in its 12th day (Saturday), though in a much busier movie season. Within a week it should pass Basterds’ $120.5-million total domestic gross and become the writer-director’s top-grossing picture. Its odds of copping the top Oscar: iffier.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Django Unchained)

The other major Dec. 25 release, Les Misérables, has tailed off a tad. The $16.1 million that this film version of the 1985 musical-theater smash will gross this weekend is less than the $18 million it earned on opening day. But for a musical with a glum demeanor and no hit tunes (unlike the chirpy 2008 Mamma Mia!, with its endless cascade of ABBA perennials), Les Mis is doing fine, breaking $100 million on its 13th day (today) for a $103.6 million domestic take, plus $67.1 million in foreign markets. That’s something to sing about, if not with quite the bravura force that Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and the other stars employ in Tom Hooper’s film.

(READ: How Tom Hooper chose his Les Misérables cast)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey continued its furry-footed plod into lofty regions, snagging third place ($17.5 million) at the domestic box office and a lordly $777.2 million worldwide in 24 days of release. Parental Guidance, with Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as reluctant babysitters for their grandkids, remains the minor breakout comedy of the season: its $52.8 million in two weeks tops gives better value than either This Is 40 ($54.5 million in three weeks) or The Guilt Trip ($31.2 million in three weeks). Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise as an ex-military sleuth, is still teetering between modest hit and minor disappointment: $64.8 million in North America, another $55.6 million abroad.

(READ: The Hobbit–Why Are There No Women In Tolkien’s World?)

This Thursday, when the Morion Picture Academy announces its Oscar nominations, Django and Les Mis are near-sure shots to be among the finalists for Best Picture. So are three films that showed strength this weekend in quite different release patterns.  Lincoln, the Oscar front runner directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, played in 1,901 theaters and, after nine weeks, stuck tenaciously in the top 10; the full domestic tally is $143.9 million. Silver Linings Playbook, the neuro-mance with likely Oscar nominees Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, has yet to play in as many as 750 theaters but has tabulated $34.7 million in this platform showcase; it gets a wider release shortly. And Zero Dark Thirty, the politically controversial get-bin-Laden docudrama from The Hurt Locker Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow, scored a sensational $2.75 million at just 60 theaters, for $4.5 million in its third week. ZDT goes wide next weekend.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

  1. Texas Chainsaw 3D, $23 million, first weekend
  2. Django Unchained, $20.1 million; $106.4 million, second week
  3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, $17.5 million; $263.8 million, fourth week
  4. Les Misérables, $16.1 million; $103.6 million, second week
  5. Parental Guidance, $10.1 million; $52.8 million, second week
  6. Jack Reacher, $9.3 million; $64.8 million, third week
  7. This Is 40, $8.6 million; $54.5 million, third week
  8. Lincoln, $5.3 million; $143.9 million, ninth week
  9. The Guilt Trip, $4.5 million; $31.2 million, third week
  10. Promised Land, $4,3 million; $4.7 million, second week