Box Office Guru Wrapup: Three New Releases Vie For Top Spot

Plus, Dredd 3D suffers a mediocre opening weekend.

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This weekend two new releases were in a dead heat for the number one spot while a third was very close behind making the race for the box office crown too close to call based on Sunday estimates. Final grosses to be reported on Monday will determine chart positions, but overall the North American box office remained dull once again posting double-digit declines from the same frame in recent years.

The horror film House at the End of the Street headlined by Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence made a play for the top spot with an estimated opening weekend of $13M driven by teenage girls and young women who have been underserved in recent weeks by Hollywood's latest menu of action flicks, older-skewing dramas, and kidpics. The Relativity Media release scared up a decent $4,217 average from 3,083 theaters which may be good enough to lead a sluggish frame once final grosses are tabulated. The suspense thriller was produced for just $10M with the distributor acquiring domestic rights for $2.5M and kicking in a targeted P&A campaign.

According to studio research, House's audience was 61% female and 70% under 25. Timing worked in the thriller's favor as The Possession was the only scary movie to connect with moviegoers over the last few months and with Halloween right around the corner, the target audience was in the mood for a creepy flick. The PG-13 rating also opened the door to business from younger teens. Reviews were mostly negative and audiences polled by CinemaScore gave it a B. But even steep declines in the weeks ahead would leave House in a profitable state especially with a promising home entertainment audience to still tap into down the road.

Also claiming first place with an estimated $13M was the LAPD cop thriller End of Watch which averaged a respectable $4,762 from 2,730 theaters, beating expectations. The R-rated pic starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peņa scored glowing reviews which helped to attract an adult audience for Open Road Films. The distributor projected a 35% Saturday-to-Sunday decline compared to the larger 45% forecasted by Relativity for House. Sunday football tends to affect male-skewing films more than female-skewing ones so final grosses to be reported on Monday could very well see the fright flick stay ahead of the cop saga. Watch earned a good A- from CinemaScore and coupled with solid reviews could have a nice shelf life.

Clint Eastwood's latest film, the baseball scout drama Trouble with the Curve, technically finished in third place according to weekend estimates. However with a slim margin of $280,000 separating it from the two other newbies, the Warner Bros. release is still in contention to clinch the number one spot when all ticket sales are counted after Sunday's close of business. The PG-13 film reported an estimate of $12.7M from 3,212 theaters for a mild $3,960 average. Co-starring Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman, Curve played to an older adult audience like most of Eastwood's films do.

Reviews were mixed for Trouble which was the actor's first starring vehicle in 19 years which he didn't also direct; his longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz made his helming debut here. The opening was nowhere close to the $29.5M that Clint's last acting venture Gran Torino grossed in its first weekend of wide release in January 2009. That film failed to score a single Oscar nomination, but was helped by buzz that it was probably going to be the legendary star's last acting gig. Instead it bowed much closer to the $12.3M of Million Dollar Baby in its first frame of national expansion in January 2005. Curve came into the marketplace with much lighter fanfare, zero awards chatter, no must-see buzz, and so it was never expected to draw huge numbers. A lack of strong reviews probably had a significant impact on the mature target audience too.

Rounding out the top five were last weekend's two new openers which fell in different manners. The Disney/Pixar 3D release of Finding Nemo slipped 43% to an estimated $9.4M putting the ten-day tally at $30M giving the fish flick a lifetime domestic cume of $369.7M. The decline was not as good as The Lion King's 27% from this weekend a year ago, but was better than the 51% for Beauty and the Beast last January when it came off of a holiday weekend.

Falling sharply from first place, Sony's fivequel Resident Evil: Retribution tumbled 68% to an estimated $6.7M making for the largest sophomore drop yet for the decade-old franchise. It was just slightly worse than the last three films which all fell by more than 60% in their second weekends. Retribution has shot up $33.5M in North America in its first ten days and looks headed for a domestic finish of just under $45M, the smallest amount in the series since the first installment in 2002. But international business was still solid with the frame collecting an estimated $30.5M boosting the overseas cume to $103.4M and worldwide to $136.9M (76% from offshore territories led by Japan) with major markets Italy and the U.K. to still open next week.

Lionsgate failed to draw in young men with its 3D action offering Dredd which opened in sixth place with an estimated $6.3M from 2,506 locations for a slow $2,514 average. Competition from other action films as well as football were factors as was the memory of Stallone's poorly-received take on the comic book character in Judge Dredd from 1995. Repelling the ladies, Dredd skewed 75% male and 69% to those 25 and older. Although many film critics gave the R-rated sci-fi flick good reviews, audiences were not as thrilled as the CinemaScore grade was a mediocre B and its 8% Friday-to-Saturday bump was the smallest increase of any pic in the top ten.

The Weinstein Co. enjoyed a good national expansion for its arthouse hit The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and claimed eighth place with an estimated $5M from 788 locations (up from five last weekend) for a respectable $6,345 average. The critically-acclaimed cult leader pic fared slightly better than director Paul Thomas Anderson's last film There Will Be Blood which didn't expand to this level until its fifth weekend when it grossed $4.9M from 885 sites for a $5,502 average. Master hopes to follow Blood and become a contender in the Oscar race for Picture and Actor. It will have a long line of worthy titles to deal with over the next three months, though, competing for attention during awards season. Cume stands at $6.1M.

The horror hit The Possession fell 54% to an estimated $2.6M giving Lionsgate $45.3M to date. Dropping 47% to an estimated $2.3M was the crime drama Lawless which has banked $34.5M so far for The Weinstein Co. The leggy kidpic ParaNorman rounded out the top ten with an estimated $2.3M, off just 26%, for a $52.6M cume.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $73.4M which was down 29% from last year when The Lion King 3D remained at number one with $21.9M; and down 17% from 2010 when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opened on top with $19M.

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