By Lisa Richwine and Patricia Reaney
(Reuters) - The return of the bloody "Texas Chainsaw" franchise sliced up movie box office rivals with a surprise win over the weekend, grabbing an estimated $23 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales.
The new "Texas Chainsaw 3D" pulled past Quentin Tarantino Western "Django Unchained," the second place film from Friday through Sunday with $20 million. No. 3 movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" grabbed $17.5 million.
Going into the weekend, box office forecasters did not think the revival of the 40-year-old "Texas Chainsaw" franchise had enough buzz to top the holiday releases that are adding to their tallies during the month of January, a typically slow time for moviegoing.
Marketing efforts for "Texas Chainsaw" paid off for distributor Lions Gate Entertainment, the studio behind the horror franchise.
Lions Gate ran a social media campaign aimed at its core horror fan base - mostly young men and women - and ran promotions during AMC Networks' TV zombie hit "The Walking Dead." The studio aimed for a broader audience with promotions during college football bowl games and other sports programs after Christmas.
"The numbers were a little bit more than expected," said Richie Fay, the president of domestic distribution for Lions Gate Entertainment.
"It is great to be No. 1. I think we held our own," he added.
Lions Gate spent about $20 million to promote the movie, which was produced by Millennium Films.
The movie revives a franchise that started four decades ago with the 1974 film about a serial killer named Leatherface. Since then, the seven "Texas Chainsaw" movies have pulled in $175 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters, according to website Box Office Mojo. The films have generated $416 million domestically.
The new movie follows a woman who inherits a family home in the town of Newt, Texas, showing all of the blood and gore in 3D. The story picked up where the original left off and included cameos from original cast members.
"Texas Chainsaw" was the only new nationwide release in North America (United States and Canada) over the weekend. "The Hobbit," the first of three movies based on the fantasy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, brought its total domestic sales to $263.8 million since its December 14 debut. "Django Unchained," released on Christmas Day, reached $106.3 million.
In fourth place for the weekend, musical "Les Miserables" earned $16.1 million, bringing its domestic sales to $103.6 million since its Christmas Day release. The No. 5 slot belonged to family comedy "Parental Guidance," which grossed $10.1 million.
"The Hobbit" was distributed by Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros. studio. The Weinstein Co. released "Django Unchained." Universal Studios, a unit of Comcast Corp distributed "Les Miserables." "Parental Guidance" was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.
(Reporting By Lisa Richwine; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)