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Box Office: ‘Gone Girl,’ ‘Annabelle’ Stun With Big Debuts

Gone Girl” and “Annabelle” enjoyed sizzling debut weekends, as David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-seller racked up $38 million and “The Conjuring” spin-off scared up $37.2 million.

It was a neck-and-neck race for first place and it’s possible that when the final numbers are tallied, the two pictures could end up swapping places. Regardless of who wears the crown, the films’ debuts continue a fall box office turnaround following a devastating summer for the movie business. The overall box office was up nearly 20% from the same weekend a year ago when “Gravity” lifted off to $55.8 million.

“We were due for some breakout performances,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com “The market has the ability to expand if there are two quality films in it, even if both are R-rated thrillers.”

Produced by 20th Century Fox and New Regency for $61 million, “Gone Girl” unspooled across 3,013 locations. It ranks as the biggest debut of Fincher’s career, topping “Panic Room’s” $30 million premiere, and the third best in Ben Affleck’s, behind “Daredevil’s” $40.3 million and “Pearl Harbor’s” $59.1 million openers. “Gone Girl” and “Annabelle” are the tenth and eleventh biggest October debuts in history.

The film was aided by fans of the book, Affleck’s recent hot streak at the box office and superb reviews, as “Gone Girl” received nearly a 90% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. With its hard R rating and chilly look at a marriage from hell, Fox was conservative going into the weekend, insisting it would be happy with a debut in the $20 million range. Early tracking suggested they’d have to content themselves with that kind of number. After the film received an enthusiastic reception at last weekend’s New York Film Festival, the numbers began to tick upwards.

David Fincher made an incredibly provocative film,” said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution at Fox. “We did an excellent job of marketing the movie and making it a cultural event where people had to see it in order to be part of the conversation.”

It continues Fox’s torrid run at the multiplexes this year. The studio has a clear lead in market share thanks to hits such as “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” after three consecutive years in sixth place. It still has “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” left to open among its upcoming releases.

“Gone Girl’s” opening weekend audience was 60% female and skewed older with 75% of the audience over the age of 25, according to Rentrak. Aronson said he was surprised the film was so evenly balanced between the genders.

“That’s a testament to the film becoming a zeitgeisty film,” he said.

“Annabelle” should not be overshadowed by “Gone Girl’s” stunning debut. Its results are just as impressive. New Line backed the horror thriller for a mere $6.5 million and capitalized on residual goodwill for 2013’s breakout hit, “The Conjuring.” It also wisely got a month-long headstart on Halloween and benefited from a dearth of horror films in the marketplace. The film has scored the best debut in the genre of 2014, surpassing “The Purge: Anarchy’s” $29.8 million opening.

“We had a wonderful campaign for the film and a good date,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. “Being a spinoff of ‘The Conjuring’ set it up really well and we just hit the right note.”

“Annabelle” centers on a possessed doll and was directed by John R. Leonetti, the longtime cinematographer behind “The Conjuring” filmmaker James Wan’s work. The opening weekend crowd was 51% female. It appealed to younger crowds than “Gone Girl,” with 54% of the audience coming in under 25 years. The picture screened across 3,185 locations.

It’s the first time since August that two films have generated more than $30 million in ticket sales — a unique feat given that both films carry R ratings, which limits their appeal to younger ticket-buyers.

The strong results of the two new entrants proved that a rising tide does indeed lift all boats. Last weekend’s champ, “The Equalizer,” held well, dropping less than 50% in its sophomore frame to roughly $19 million. The Denzel Washington thriller has picked up $65 million in two weeks of release.

“The Maze Runner” and “The Boxtrolls” also were able to bring in younger audiences who may not have been able to score passage to the R-rated films in the market. “The Maze Runner” fell a mere 31% to $12 million, while “The Boxtrolls” dropped 28% to $12.4 million, bringing their totals to $73.9 million and $32.5 million, respectively.

“Left Behind,” the weekend’s other big debut, was only able to generate mild enthusiasm among faith-based crowds and the endangered tribe of Nicolas Cage fans. The Rapture-themed picture generated a modest $6.8 million across 1,825 screens, one of the worst debuts of Cage’s career, beneath such duds as “The Wicker Man” ($9.6 million) and “Bangkok Dangerous” ($7.8 million).

In limited release, “The Good Lie” grossed $935,000 from 461 locations. Warner Bros. is releasing the drama about the lost boys of Sudan with Resse Witherspoon lending some star power.

Jason Reitman’s examination of the way we tweet now, “Men, Women & Children” generated $48,000 for the weekend and $61,000 since debuting on Wednesday in 17 theaters. Paramount Pictures, which is distributing the film, will open the picture in wide release on Oct. 17.

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