Lionsgate's Saw IV maintained the horror franchise's grip on the Halloween season as it stormed to the top of the North American charts with a resounding $32.1m estimated launch.

It still wasn't enough to stop the overall box office from slipping for the sixth consecutive weekend against the same period last year, although this time it was marginal: an aggregated $86.1m top 12 tally represented a 2% drop against the same weekend in 2006.

Saw IV, which stars Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor and Shawnee Smith, is Lionsgate's second number one release in three weeks after Why Did I Get Married' (The indie horror sequel, which Lionsgate produced with Twisted Pictures, also enjoyed bouyant debuts in the UK, Spain, Australia, Brazil and Turkey)

The recently reconstituted Mandate International, which is now acts as Lionsgate's international sales arm following its absorption into the company, currently has international rights to three of the top five films at the North American box office.

Buena Vista's comedy Dan In Real Life starring Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche opened in second place on a respectable $12.1m. The rest of the top 10 stayed much the same.

Roadside Attractions' romantic drama Bella launched outside the top 10 on an excellent $1.3m from 165 screens for an $8,026 per-screen average.

The film won the Toronto People's Choice Award in 2006 and is expected to expand into new markets over the weekends of Nov 9 and 16.

The Weinstein Company's Control added $97,000 from 19 screens in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Chicago and stands at $219,000.

ThinkFilm's well-reviewed Sidney Lumet thriller Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei, launched in two New York theatres on $73,500 and will gradually expand nationwide.

Sony Pictures Classics' documentary Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains, directed by Jonathan Demme, didn't debut so well, taking $10,573 from seven theatres.

Next weekend's wide releases are: New Line's drama Martian Child with John Cusack and Amanda Peet; DreamWorks-Paramount's animated family film Bee Movie starring the vocal talents of Jerry Seinfeld (who also co-wrote the screeplay), Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick and Chris Rock; and Universal's crime drama American Gangster, directed by Ridley Scott, with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington.

Estimated Top 10 North America Oct 26-28, 2007
Film (Dist)/Int'l dist/Est wkd gross/Est total to date
1 (-) Saw IV (Lionsgate) Mandate Int'l $32.1m -
2 (-) Dan In Real Life (Buena Vista) Focus Features Int'l $12.1m -
3 (1) 30 Days Of Night (Sony) Mandate Int'l $6.7m $27.3m
4 (3) The Game Plan (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $6.3m $77.1m
5 (2) Why Did I Get Married' (Lionsgate) Mandate Int'l $5.7m $47.3m
6 (4) Michael Clayton (Warner Bros) Summit Int'l $5m $28.8m
7 (6) Gone Baby Gone (Miramax) WDSMPI $3.9m $11.3m
8 (5) The Comebacks (Fox) $3.5m $10m
9 (7) We Own The Night (Sony) Wild Bunch $3.4m $25.1m
10 (8) The Nightmare Before Christmas (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $3.3m $10m