NORTH AMERICA: Studio Estimates: ‘Fury’ Leads the Way with $23.5M Debut; ‘Gone Girl’ Passes $100M Mark after $17.8M Take; ‘The Book of Life’ Solid in Third with $17.0M

Sunday Update: Sony’s Fury debuted in first place this weekend with an estimated $23.5 million. The David Ayer directed war film starring Brad Pitt opened on the low end of pre-release expectations. Fury opened a slim 7 percent ahead of the $22.00 million debut of Sony’s The Monuments Men back in February and 20.5 percent ahead of the $19.50 million start of Sony’s Moneyball back in September of 2011. Like both of those films were able to do, Fury will hope to hold up well going forward.

Fury opened with $8.83 million on Friday (which included a relatively large $1.2 million from Thursday night shows), increased 3 percent on Saturday to take in $9.13 million and is estimated to fall 39 percent on Sunday to gross $5.55 million. That places the film’s estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at a somewhat front-loaded 2.66 to 1. The audience breakdown for Fury skewed towards male moviegoers (60 percent) and slightly towards moviegoers over the age of 35 (51 percent). Fury received an encouraging A- rating on CinemaScore.

After leading the box office each of the past two weekends, Fox’s Gone Girl placed in second this weekend with an estimated $17.8 million. The critically acclaimed David Fincher directed film starring Ben Affleck continued to hold up well, as it was down just 33 percent from last weekend. Gone Girl surpassed the $100 million mark this weekend and has now grossed $107.07 million through 17 days of release. Before much longer, Gone Girl will zoom past the $127.51 million final domestic gross of 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to become David Fincher’s highest grossing film to date (without adjusting for ticket price inflation).

Fellow Fox release The Book of Life followed closely behind in third with an estimated $17.0 million debut. The modestly budgeted computer animated film opened in line with expectations and likely received an added boost from opening a couple weeks before Halloween and Day of the Dead. The Book of Life opened nearly on par with the recent $17.28 million launch of The Boxtrolls. The Book of Life started out with $4.98 million on Friday, increased 38 percent on Saturday to take in $6.87 million and is estimated to decline 25 percent on Sunday to gross $5.16 million. That places the film’s estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 3.42 to 1. Like Fury, The Book of Life also received an encouraging A- rating on CinemaScore.

Fellow family film Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day claimed fourth place with an estimated $12.04 million. The Disney release starring Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner fell 34 percent from last weekend. That represented a very nice hold, especially given the added competition for family audiences from The Book of Life. Alexander has grossed $36.87 million through ten days of release, which is in line with expectations and is very solid with the film’s modest price tag in mind.

Relativity’s The Best of Me rounded out the weekend’s top with an estimated debut of $10.2 million. The Nicholas Sparks adaptation starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden opened on the low end of its modest expectations. The Best of Me opened softer than most Sparks adaptations, with the film’s performance more closely representing the $13.42 million start of 2008’s Nights in Rodanthe. The Best of Me opened with $4.14 million on Friday, fell 8.5 percent on Saturday to take in $3.79 million and is estimated to fall 40 percent on Sunday to gross $2.27 million. That places the film’s estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at just 2.46 to 1. The Best of Me received a solid B+ rating on CinemaScore, which strongly suggests that the film is going over better with moviegoers than with critics.

In their second weekend of release, Universal’s Dracula Untold and Warner’s The Judge claimed sixth and seventh places with respective estimates of $9.9 million and $7.94 million. Dracula Untold was down a sharp 58 percent from last weekend’s stronger than expected start, while The Judge was down a very solid 39 percent from last weekend’s modest debut. Respective ten-day total grosses stand at $40.75 million for Dracula Untold and at $26.84 million for The Judge.

Warner’s Annabelle placed in eighth with an estimated $7.93 million. The low-budget spin-off to The Conjuring was down a respectable 50 percent and has grossed a stronger than expected $74.13 million in 17 days. Annabelle will face new direct competition next weekend when Universal unleashes Ouija in theaters on Friday.

On the platform front, the critically acclaimed Birdman was off to a terrific start with an estimated $415,000 from 4 locations in New York and Los Angeles. The Alejandro González Iñárritu directed film starring Michael Keaton from Fox Searchlight and New Regency generated a massive per-location average of $103,750 for the frame. Birdman will receive a major expansion next weekend.

Saturday Update: Sony reports that David Ayers’ Fury bowed to an estimated $8.8 million on Friday. The dramatic war thriller led by Brad Pitt easily marked director Ayers’ best opening of his career so far, topping End of Watch‘s $4.6 million opening day two years ago. The opening day is also slightly ahead of Captain Phillips‘ $8.5 million last October, which went on to earn $25.7 million over its opening frame. Early word of mouth for the picture is very healthy with an 88 percent Flixster score as of Saturday morning, a good sign for the film’s lifespan combined with an 80 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and “A-” CinemaScore. BoxOffice projects a $25 million weekend.

Gone Girl continued to hold up well at the start of its third frame with a 32 percent drop from last Friday to $5.55 million yesterday. The David Fincher-Ben Affleck thriller has tallied $94.8 million through 15 days of release. BoxOffice projects an $18 million third weekend.

Fox’s The Book of Life took in $4.95 million in its first day, capitalizing on its Halloween-friendly themes and strong appeal to Hispanic audiences. The opening day was in line with that of The Boxtrolls ($4.93 million) a few weeks ago. The pic’s Flixster score compares well also (80 percent versus Boxtrolls’ 76 percent). BoxOffice projects a $17.3 million opening frame.

Relativity’s The Best of Me opened in line with expectations to the tune of $4.14 million yesterday. Unfortunately, that’s a modest performance for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, although unlike Safe Haven and Dear John in recent years, this film didn’t have the advantage of opening near date-night friendly Valentine’s Day (not to mention some certain impact from Gone Girl‘s strong female audience). The film’s Flixster score stands at 67 percent this morning. BoxOffice projects an $11.5 million weekend.

Meanwhile, in a platform release of 4 theaters this weekend, Birdman flew high with $135,602 to start its run. The strongly-reviewed picture, and presumed eventual awards contender, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and starring Michael Keaton averaged a huge $33,901 per location on Friday. That tops Inside Llewyn Davis‘ $30,835 opening day average ($123,340 overall) from 4 locations last year, while also topping 12 Years a Slave‘s $14,415 opening day average ($273,882 total) from 10 locations. Other comparable 4-location openers include The Artist ($75,456 total, $18,864 average), The Fighter ($98,521 total, $24,630 average), and 127 Hours ($77,262 total, $19,316 average). This early showing for Birdman sets the stage for a fruitful expansion across the nation in the weeks and months to come. BoxOffice projects the film could net around $450,000 this weekend.

Not to be forgotten in platform release this weekend is St. Vincent, expanding to 68 locations with a $187,000 Friday and $2,750 per-theater average. With almost $339,000 in the bank so far, BoxOffice projects a $665,000 weekend.

Friday Update: Sources report that Fury is easily leading Friday box office with early projections putting it around $8.5 million for opening day, including last night’s $1.2 million start. If that holds, the Brad Pitt-led war thriller from David Ayer will likely post a strong debut weekend between $24 million and $26 million.

The Book of Life is off to a solid start as well with early reports of a first day north of $4 million. It looks to open in the same weekend range as The Boxtrolls a few weeks ago with $15-17 million.

Romantic drama The Best of Me is eyeing an opening day of $3.5 million to $4 million based on early trends. If that holds, look for a weekend around $10 million to $11 million.

Check BoxOffice on Saturday morning for official Friday estimates and our early weekend projections for all major titles.

Previously: Sony reports that Fury is off to an excellent start with $1.2 million from Thursday evening shows. The debut tops recent Thursday hauls from Captain Phillips ($600K) and The Monuments Men ($550K).

Meanwhile, Fox’s The Book of Life opened to a modest $300K. That’s not bad for a film that isn’t part of an established property.

Check back later today to see how the weekend is shaping up for Fury and other new releases.