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Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: ‘Gone Girl’ & ‘Annabelle Lead Record October Weekend

Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: 'Gone Girl' & 'Annabelle Lead Record October Weekend

Throw in the solid second weekend holdover of “The Equalizer” (down 44%) and the result could wind up the biggest-grossing October weekend ever (unadjusted), even with stay-home holiday Yom Kippur. The Top Ten came in around $137 million, up $26 million from 2013 despite “Gravity”‘s big haul. 

Neither gross comes close to a record for the month — over the past decade, “Taken,” “Paranormal Activity 2” and “3,” “Jackass 3D” and “High School Musical 3” also took in over $40 million, along with the record-setting “Gravity.” But both new films and “The Equalizer” look to be certified successes. The year-to-date shortfall is now below 5% for the first time since the end of July, having made up about a third of the drop over the last two-plus months. Keep this up and the year might not look so bad after all.

With “The Maze Runner” also holding well, it means there is an outside chance that four films released in the last three weeks might hit $100 million, which for films released this time of year would be unprecedented. Each has a distinct appeal and targets diverse audiences (including the missing younger demo), which always helps.

Top Ten Grosses

1. Gone Girl (20th Century Fox) NEW –  Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 79; Est. cost: $61 million
$38,000,000 in 3,014 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $12,608; Cumulative: $38,000,000
2. Annabelle (Warner Bros.) NEW –  Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 38; Est. cost: $6.5 million
$37,200,000 in 3,185 theaters; PSA: $11,680; Cumulative: $37,200,000
3. The Equalizer (Sony)  Week 2; Last weekend #1
$19,000,000 (-44%) in 3,236 theaters (no change); PSA: $5,871; Cumulative: $64,500,000
4. The Boxtrolls (Focus) Week 2; Last weekend #3
$12,425,000 (-28%) in 3,464 theaters (no change); PSA: $3,587; Cumulative: $32,539,000
5. The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox) Week 3; Last weekend #2
$12,000,000 (-31%) in 3,605 theaters (-33); PSA: $3,329; Cumulative: $73,921,00
6. Left Behind (Freestyle) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: D+; Metacritic: 13; Est. cost: $16-20 million
$6,850,000 in 1,825 theaters; PSA: $3,753; Cumulative: $6,850,000
7. This Is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$4,000,000 (-42%) in 2,735 theaters (-133); PSA: $1,463; Cumulative: $29,003,000
8. Dolphin Tale 2 (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #5
$3,530,000 (-26%) in 2,790 theaters (-586); PSA: $1,265; Cumulative: $37,974,000
9. Guardians of the Galaxy (Buena Vista) Week 10; Last weekend #8
$3,034,000 (-19%) in 1,894 theaters (-586); PSA: $1,602; Cumulative: $323,360,000
10. No Good Deed (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend: #6
$2,500,000 (-45%) in 1,580 theaters (-557); PSA: $1,582; Cumulative: $50,157,000

The takeaways

1. “Gone Girl” Boasts Strong Elements

Jumping into the fall arena as the first major studio wide release in the awards corridor (the jury’s out on that), and helped by a smartly marketed New York Film Festival opening night presentation (which led to many favorable reviews appearing a week early), “Gone Girl” might not be a stand-alone record setter, but its $38 million gross includes many factors and high-end achievements. These include:

A gross far above most other October wide release awards contenders: This is below “Gravity” (with its PG13 rating and IMAX and 3D gross total boost. “Gone Girl” actually may have had as any total ticket buyers, but far ahead of other similar films such as “The Social Network” ($22.4 million), “Captain Phillips” ($25.7 million), “Argo” ($19.5 million) and perhaps most significantly (with its shared strong R rating) “The Departed” ($26.9 million).

All of those films had multiples of four or more for their ultimate domestic take, which isn’t guaranteed for “Gone Girl” (next weekend will give a better indication), and all of them were in the middle of significant Oscar talk (with two winning Best Picture). Fox and company did a great job of hyping initial interest (enhanced of course by the book’s runaway success) and other factors. 

Career best openers for David Fincher and Ben Affleck: For Fincher on his tenth film, this supplants “The Panic Room” (2002) as his best opener. That needs to be with the important caveat that two of his last three films, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” both opened just before or at Christmas, a notoriously idiosyncratic period for weekend totals (as well as incredibly competitive), with both those films going on to multiples of between five and nine times their openings. Still, this reinforces that his name now stands with Scorsese among veteran directors with a reputation for tough, edgy and personal commercial films.

For Affleck, whose career rebound continues, this stands as a film in which his established presence clearly also elevated attention (curiously, “Argo” is his only film in the last decade to pass $100 million), and most significantly, arguably the initial draw came more from him as a clear lead, dominant actor more than any of his past successes, often with an equally strong costarring cast.

The Saturday gross was 15% ahead of Friday. This was a big question after the first day and the news of its mediocre B Cinemascore (anything below B+ usually indicates potential trouble ahead, although “Wolf of Wall Street” did well with a much worse C). Among the films mentioned above, only “The Social Network” (up only 11%) increased less (the others jumped between 23 and 47%). But my take is positive, since the Friday gross was much above all but “Gravity” (leaving less room for growth than some), and none except for “Gravity” had anything like the advanced interest which likely made it a must-see opening day film for much of the audience. And even mixed word of mouth might not be that bad. The film is creating controversy and for a variety of factors (not all related to the art of film or its plot) has strong continued want to see values. The key may be how women – who made up 60% of the audience – react to its lead Rosamunde Pike’s character, whose portrayal makes Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” look just mildly obsessive. She’s got the best shot at an Oscar nomination, for Best Actress.

“Gone Girl”‘s initial success continues Twentieth Century Fox’s industry-best year so far, after a great summer, now the leader for fall as well, thanks to”The Maze Runner.” And this is the second best opening ever for Arnon Milchan’s production/financing company New Regency (after “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”). From its start in the 80s, New Regency has long chased after creative film directors (Terry Gilliam, Sergio Leone, Oliver Stone, Curtis Hanson, Martin Scorsese). They partnered with Fox Searchlight for both “12 Years a Slave” last year and the forthcoming “Birdman.” Along with Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Productions and the usually reliable Scott Rudin, they are providing a home for adventuresome filmmaking at a time when risk-taking is often shunned. While the summer was low on veteran established and acclaimed directors, the fall tends to bring them back. 

2. How “Annabelle” Overcame the Horror Slump

In a year littered with underperforming horror films (many of them sequels), why did “Annabelle” do better? Several factors helped this New Line-produced film. “The Conjuring” introduced the doll character highlighted in the new film, which grossed $137 million last summer domestically. Even with the recent fall off, follow-up films from such a popular genre success usually thrive initially. And the original’s strong female appeal pulled an audience.

The B Cinemascore is about average for horror openings. More encouraging for the film’s prospects is that it dropped under 10% yesterday from Friday (which includes $2.2 million from Thursday late shows), while “The Conjuring” fell 17% its second day. But there could have been another hidden asset. Unlike most sequels these days, Warners didn’t play it safe by repeating the title of the original, but went with the stand-alone “Annabelle,” the way sequels usually were titled before the 1970s. It might have made the film seem to some more original and not needing familiarity with the prior film, which sometimes can work against a film’s appeal.

“Left Behind” and Freestyle

This is third wide release of a fundamentalist Christian independent film this year. The company handled (but didn’t produce) “God’s Not Dead” earlier this year, which they rode to an amazing $60 million domestic gross (on a $2 million cost) despite its bottom of the barrel reviews. It suggested, as other films earlier have done (Fox’ bigger scale “Heaven Is for Real”) that a large underserved audience was out there.

“Left Behind” had a bigger name star (Nicolas Cage) and much higher budget ($16-20 million) plus some pedigree from its book and earlier movie version (the 2000 one starred Kirk Cameron). The result was a sixth place finish this weekend. Freestyle did its job in getting the right theaters, easier coming off of “God’s Not Dead.” But between the initial budget and likely higher marketing costs for this, it doesn’t look like it is enough to justify this level of low-level filmmaking (the reviews were even worse than “God’s Not Dead,” with many disparaging the film’s production values). Yesterday’s gross was only a bit above Friday’s, whereas “God’s” jumped 18%. This looks to end up under $15 million and struggling to make a profit, which may discourage other producers. Coming after “The Identical” (also Freestyle a few weeks ago, grossing under $3 million) it no longer appears that just surrounding a film with a Bible-belt veneer and church-based marketing is enough to guarantee success, despite “God’s Not Dead”‘s enormous success.

Holdovers impress again

Four of the seven holdovers fell only between a minor 20 and 31%, despite in some cases losing sizable numbers of theaters. “Guardians of the Galaxy” at 20% actually saw its PSA rise. “The Boxtrolls” like many animated films also held well, down 28%, much better than Laika’s most recent “Coraline” (which fell 39% its second weekend). And “The Maze Runner” likely guaranteed its reaching the $100 million mark with a minor 31% fall despite three strong films ahead of it. After a summer of bigger than usual falloffs following many below average openings, this is another sign of a real rebound going on.

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