NORTH AMERICA: Studio Estimates: ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Annabelle’ Both Exceed Expectations with Strong Respective $38.0M and $37.2M Starts

Sunday Update: It was an impressive weekend at the box office, as both Fox’s Gone Girl and Warner’s Annabelle over-performed in what turned out to be a very tight race for first place between the two new releases. Based on studio estimates, Gone Girl is estimated to take first place with $38.0 million, while Annabelle is estimated to place in a close second with $37.2 million. The race is obviously still close enough that positions could change when actuals are released on Monday.

With $38.0 million, Gone Girl exceeded pre-release expectations, which increased as the film’s release neared thanks in part to strong reviews and strong pre-sales. The critically acclaimed David Fincher directed film starring Ben Affleck delivered the tenth largest opening weekend performance of all time for the month of October (without adjusting for ticket price inflation). Gone Girl represented the largest debut ever for Fincher (his previous best being the $30.06 million debut of 2002’s Panic Room) and the third largest start ever for Affleck (behind only 2001’s Pearl Harbor and 2003’s Daredevil). The film opened an impressive 69 percent stronger than the $22.45 million launch of 2010’s The Social Network.

Gone Girl opened with $13.2 million on Friday (which included an estimated $1.3 million from late night Thursday shows), increased 15 percent on Saturday to gross $15.18 million and is estimated to decline 37 percent on Sunday to gross $9.63 million. That places the film’s estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 2.88 to 1. Gone Girl received a so-so B rating on CinemaScore, but the film’s strong critical reviews strongly suggest that the film will hold up well going forward.

With $37.2 million, Annabelle exceeded expectations in a big way. Given its lesser expectations and significantly lower price tag than Gone Girl, Annabelle had the more impressive start this weekend. However, it is also highly likely that the low-budget spin-off to The Conjuring won’t hold up as well as Gone Girl will going forward. Without adjusting for ticket price inflation, Annabelle registered the eleventh largest opening weekend ever for the month of October. Annabelle clearly benefited in a big way from the audience goodwill generated by The Conjuring. The film opened just below the respective $41.86 million and $40.27 million starts of The Conjuring and Insidious Chapter 2.

Annabelle started out with $15.50 million on Friday (which included an estimated $2.1 million from late night shows on Thursday), decreased a very reasonable 10 percent on Saturday to take in $14.00 million and is estimated to decline 45 percent on Sunday to gross $7.70 million. That places the film’s estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 2.40 to 1, which is encouraging for a horror film. The film’s B rating on CinemaScore is also a solid early sign given the film’s genre. Annabelle had clear four-quadrant appeal as the audience breakdown for the film was nearly evenly split between genders (51 percent female, 49 percent male) and skewed towards moviegoers under the age of 25 (54 percent).

On the heels of last weekend’s strong start, Sony’s The Equalizer was down two spots and 44 percent this weekend to place in third with an estimated $19.0 million. The Denzel Washington led action thriller had a solid second weekend hold, especially when taking into account the strong debuts of Gone Girl and Annabelle. The Equalizer continues to perform towards the higher end of its lofty expectations with a ten-day take of $64.49 million. That places the film 6 percent ahead of the $60.74 million ten-day gross of 2010’s The Book of Eli, which fell 52 percent in its second weekend to gross $15.73 million.

The Boxtrolls held up very nicely in its second weekend with an estimated fourth place take of $12.43 million. The latest stop motion animated film from Focus and Laika was down a slim 28 percent from last weekend. 2009’s Coraline and 2012’s ParaNorman both displayed terrific holding power and The Boxtrolls is now on course to do the same after this weekend’s strong hold. The Boxtrolls has grossed a stronger than expected $32.54 million in ten days, which places the film 15 percent ahead of the $28.26 million ten-day take of ParaNorman (which fell 39 percent in its second weekend to gross $8.64 million).

Fox’s The Maze Runner also held up nicely this weekend with an estimated fifth place gross of $12.0 million. The successful young adult adaptation was down just 31 percent from last weekend. The Maze Runner continues to display strong holding power for a young adult adaptation and has grossed a stronger than expected $73.92 million through 17 days of release. Both The Maze Runner and The Boxtrolls appear to have received an added boost this weekend from the Yom Kippur holiday.

Freestyle’s Left Behind debuted in sixth place with an estimated $6.85 million. The faith based thriller remake starring Nicolas Cage opened towards the lower end of its modest expectations. Left Behind opened 26 percent below the $9.22 million launch of Freestyle’s God’s Not Dead earlier this year and will be hard pressed to hold up anywhere near as well as God’s Not Dead did. Left Behind opened with $2.4 million on Friday, increased a slim 1.5 percent on Saturday to take in $2.44 million and is estimated to decline 17 percent on Sunday to gross $2.02 million. That places the film’s estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 2.85 to 1. Left Behind received a lackluster B- rating on CinemaScore.

In limited release, Warner’s The Good Lie was off to a slow start this weekend with an estimated $0.935 million from 461 locations. That gave the Reese Witherspoon led drama a soft per-location average of $2,028 for the frame. The Good Lie certainly wasn’t helped out by the break-out performances of Gone Girl and Annabelle this weekend.

On the platform front, Paramount’s Men, Women & Children was off to an even more lackluster start with an estimated $48,000 from 17 locations. That gave the Jason Reitman directed film featuring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner a per-location average of just $2,824. Men, Women & Children has grossed $61,290 since debuting on Wednesday and after this weekend’s disappointing start, will have a tough time going forward as it expands into more locations.

Saturday Update: Warner Bros. reports that Annabelle earned an estimated $15.5 million in first place on Friday, a strong start for the low-budget Conjuring spin-off budgeted around a mere $7 million (excluding marketing). That easily makes it the best opening day of the year for a straight-up horror film and the genre’s best opening day since September 2013’s Insidious Chapter 2 ($20.2 million). Unfortunately, critics haven’t taken to the film (30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) while audiences have given it a 58 percent Flixster score and “B” CinemaScore, suggesting word of mouth will struggle going forward. Still, WB and New Line can be happy with this weekend’s financial results. BoxOffice projects a $31 million opening weekend for Annabelle.

Fox’s Gone Girl also impressed on opening day with $13.2 million. The David Fincher-directed adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s popular novel handily surpassed the first Friday takes of The Social Network ($8.0 million) and Prisoners ($6.97 million). Strong pre-release buzz had surrounded the film thanks to Fincher’s involvement and praise around the performances of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Critics have awarded the pic a strong 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, while Flixster audiences also give it their approval with 86 percent. With awards season just around the corner, expect a leggy lifespan for the drama. BoxOffice projects an opening weekend of $36.5 million.

Last week’s top film, The Equalizer, slipped 55 percent to $5.6 million yesterday. The Denzel Washington hit has earned $51.1 million in its first 8 days of release, 2 percent ahead of the pace of The Book of Eli. BoxOffice projects a respectable $17.5 million sophomore frame.

The Maze Runner eased 34 percent from last Friday to $3.44 million yesterday. The young adult adaptation has tallied $65.4 million through 15 days of release, 33 percent ahead of the pace of Ender’s Game. BoxOffice projects an $11.5 million third weekend.

The Boxtrolls took in an estimated $2.74 million to begin its second frame, down 44 percent from opening day last week. The latest success from Laika Animation has earned $22.85 million in its first 8 days, 4 percent more than ParaNorman through the same point. BoxOffice projects a $10.4 million second weekend.

Freestyle’s Left Behind remake, starring Nicolas Cage, brought in $2.36 million in its opening day. While that falls short of other faith-based releases this year like God’s Not Dead ($2.8 million), it has already exceeded the entire $2.2 million opening weekend of Kirk Cameron’s original Left Behind film adaptation, released in February 2001. BoxOffice projects an opening weekend of around $7 million for the Cage version.

In limited release, Reese Witherspoon-led The Good Lie brought in an estimated $300,000 from 3461 locations yesterday for a $651 per-theater average. BoxOffice projects a weekend close to $900,000. Warner Bros. reports the film received a strong “A+” CinemaScore.

In platform release, Jason Reitman’s Men, Women, & Children earned an estimated $13,000 from 17 locations on Friday. The per-theater average was $765. The film has tallied $26,290 since opening Wednesday.

Friday Update: Sources report that Annabelle is trending for an opening day around $14 million, positioning it for an opening weekend between $28-30 million if that pace holds.

Gone Girl is eyeing an opening day around $12 million based on early reports, which should translate to a weekend finish in first place of at least $34 million.

Check back on Saturday morning for official Friday estimates and more concrete weekend projections.

Previously: Warner Bros. reports that Annabelle took in $2.1 million from Thursday evening shows. The Conjuring spin-off is aiming to take advantage of what’s been a weak market for horror fans over the past year. By comparison, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones pulled a $1.2 million Thursday night start back in January as part of an $18.3 million opening weekend. Annabelle‘s debut tops Insidious Chapter 2‘s $1.5 million Thursday start in September 2013. Ultimately, Annabelle‘s trajectory will greatly depend on how strong the demand for a new horror pic is among mainstream audiences.

Meanwhile, Gone Girl took in $1.3 million Thursday night, just behind Gravity‘s $1.4 million start exactly one year ago. Fans of Gillian Flynn’s popular novel had been scooping up tickets in advance of release, and when also considering David Fincher’s own fan base of cinephiles, it too has a fairly wide weekend trajectory from here that will depend on how well the marketing has sold the pic as a must-see on opening night. Either way, early reviews and reactions suggest the film is going to have a very healthy lifespan.

Check back later for early Friday/weekend projections.