Capping a dramatic race at the North American box office, David Fincher's R-rated adult drama Gone Girl topped horror spinoff Annabelle as both movies did far better than expected.
Gone Girl took in an estimated $38 million from 3,014 theaters, the top opening of Fincher's career and one of the best showings for Ben Affleck, who stars opposite Rosamund Pike in 20th Century Fox and New Regency's $61 million adaptation of Gillian Flynn's popular novel. Fincher's previous top opening was Panic Room, which opened to $30.1 million in 2002.
The adult thriller also prospered overseas, where it grossed $24.6 million from its first 39 markets for a worldwide launch of $62.6 million. The U.K. led with $6.9 million, Fincher's biggest opening ever.
Mircobudgeted horror film Annabelle, a prequel to box-office hit The Conjuring and fueled by younger moviegoers, grossed $37.2 million from 3,185 theaters in North America, cementing a new franchise. That's a sizable victory for New Line, considering Annabelle cost just $6.5 million to make. Internationally, the movie made $20 million from 24 markets for an early foreign total of $23 million and global cume of $60.2 million.
Some rivals have the two pictures closer in North America; final weekend numbers will be released Monday.
Based on Friday's numbers, Gone Girl appeared the easy victor, but the race became closer thanks to Annabelle's hold on Saturday (usually, horror falls off). Either way, both movies provided a needed boost for the North American box office following the worst September in six years, with overall weekend revenue up 3 percent.
It's not a surprise that Gone Girl, also starring Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, received a B CinemaScore, considering its polarizing subject matter. The film, about the torments of marriage, has plenty of pedigree between Fincher, the cast and Flynn's novel, which has sold more than 6 million copies in hardcover. Flynn also wrote the adapted script for the movie, which opened the New York Film Festival Sept. 26.
"A confluence of events turned this into a must-see movie," said Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson. "You had to see it to be part of the conversation."
As expected, Gone Girl played best in big cities, led by New York and Los Angeles. Females turned out in force (60 percent), while the vast majority of ticket buyers were over the age of 25 (75 percent). Gone Girl played to an ethnically diverse audience as well.
Adult dramas generally don't open big but can have impressive legs. That holds true for virtually all of Fincher's films. The Social Network opened to $22.5 million domestically on its way to earning $95 million. And two years before that, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, benefiting from stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, debuted to $26.9 million on its way to earning $127.5 million domestically.
Ben Affleck's Argo also built slowly, opening to $19.5 million on its way to winning the Oscar and earning $136 million domestically.
Heading into the weekend, Fox predicted that that Gone Girl, would open in the $20 million to $22 million range.
New Line and Warner Bros. were likewise cautious, saying they'd be thrilled if Annabelle crossed $20 million. The movie earned a B CinemaScore (horror titles often get a C), and skewed slightly female (51 percent). Nearly 55 percent of ticket buyers were under the age of 25.
Returning John R. Leonetti in the director's chair, Annabelle stars Alfre Woodard, Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton. The film has garnered strong interest among younger moviegoers, who tend to turn out en masse on opening weekend.
"New Line is on fire right now, and we have a new franchise," said Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman.
The weekend's other new nationwide offering, Nicolas Cage's faith-based thriller, Left Behind, placed No. 6 for the weekend with $6.9 million from 1,825 locations. Freestyle is distributing the independently financed film.
Reese Witherspoon's Sudanese refugee drama The Good Lie, only opening in 461 theaters, got off to a troubled start. The film, from Black Label Media, Alcon Entertainment and Imagine, placed No. 13 with an estimated $935,000. The good news: It received an A+ CinemaScore, so could benefit from word-of-mouth and build among both mainstream and faith-based audiences. Warner Bros. is distributing the drama, about the Lost Boys of Sudan.
Paramount took an even more limited approach with filmmaker Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children, opening the film in 17 locations in 12 top markets, albeit to soft results. Men, Women & Children grossed $48,000 for a weekend location average of just $2,800, putting its five-day total at $61,000 after opening Wednesday.
Men, Women & Children, which expands nationwide Oct. 17, stars Kaitlyn Dever, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris and Adam Sandler.
Among holdovers, Denzel Washington's The Equalizer enjoyed a strong hold in its second weekend, declining 44 percent to an estimated $19 million for a domestic cume of $64.5 million. The action thriller, from Sony and Village Roadshow, placed No. 3 after Gone Girl and Annabelle. Overseas, the film took in $19 million from 70 markets for a foreign total of $39.6 million and worldwide cume of $104.1 million.
Laika and Focus Features' family offering The Boxtrolls came in No. 4 in its second outing, falling even less (28 percent) to $12.4 million for a domestic total of $32.5 million. The family offering earned another $6 million internationally for a foreign total of $26 million and global total of $90.5 million.
Fox's The Maze Runner rounded out the top five, grossing $12 million in its third weekend for a North American cume of $73.9 million. Worldwide, the YA film adaptation neared the $200 million mark, grossing $16.5 million overseas for a foreign cume of $119.1 million and global haul of $193 million.
Overseas, Legendary Pictures' Dracula Untold opened in 25 territories a week ahead of its domestic launch, grossing $21 million, led by Mexico with $5 million.
Another movie making headlines globally was Fox International Productions and FoxStar India's Bollywood title Bang Bang, which opened to $25.4 million, including $19.3 million in India and $1.4 million in North America from only 271 theaters.
Here are the estimated top 10 films for the weekend of Oct. 3-5 at the domestic box office:
Title, Weeks in Release/Theater Count, Studio, Weekend Total, Percentage Change, Cume
1. Gone Girl, 1/3,014, Fox/New Regency, $38 million
2. Annabelle, 1/3,185, Warner Bros./New Line, $37.2 million
3. The Equalizer, 2/3,236, Sony/Village Roadshow, $18 million, 44%, $64.5 million
4. The Boxtrolls, 2/3,464, Focus Features/Laika, $12.4 million, -28%, $32.5 million
5. The Maze Runner, 3/3,605, Fox, $12 million, -31%, $73.9 million
6. Left Behind, 1/1,825, Freestyle, $6.9 million
7. This Is Where I Leave You, 3/2,735, Warner Bros., $4 million, -42%, $29 million
8. Dolphin Tale 2, 4/2,795, Warner Bros./Alcon, $3.5 million, -26%, $38 million
9. Guardians of the Galaxy, 10/1,894, Disney/Marvel, $3 million, -19%, $323.4 million
10. No Good Deed, 4/1,580, Sony/Screem Gems, $2.5 million, -52%, $50.2 million