By Saba Hamedy
Tribune News Service
LOS ANGELES – The new David Fincher thriller “Gone Girl” and the low-budget horror film “Annabelle” scored big at the weekend box office, propelled by one key audience group: women.
“Gone Girl” finished the weekend at No. 1 with a three-day estimated gross of $38 million in the U.S. and Canada, while “Annabelle” finished a close second with $37.2 million. Studios will get more precise numbers Monday, but both heavily marketed R-rated films appear to have trumped industry tracking figures by more than $10 million.
Based on the popular novel by Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl” follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) after his wife goes missing on their fifth anniversary.
As secrets of their marriage unfold, police, media and community members try to determine whether Nick killed his wife.
The film drew an audience that was 60 percent female, a testament to its strong female cast: Rosamund Pike as wife Amy, Kim Dickens as Detective Boney and Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin. The majority of moviegoers – 75 percent – were older than 25.
“One of Fincher’s genius moves – he makes many – is the casting of this film,” said Chris Aronson, 20th Century Fox’s head of domestic distribution.
Critical praise also helped. As of Sunday, the film had notched an 87 percent positive rating on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.
Both “Gone Girl” and “Annabelle” received B grades from audience polling firm CinemaScore.
The films helped to boost a box office recovering from a summer slump.
According to entertainment data provider Rentrak, weekend ticket sales for the top 10 films were up 24.3 percent from the same time last year, when director Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-nominated “Gravity” posted the biggest October debut with about $55.6 million in the U.S. and Canada.
After summer hits such as “Lucy,” “Maleficent” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” the strength of female audiences shouldn’t come as a shock.
“At this point, we shouldn’t even have to try to make a point about how important the female audience is,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “It should be self-evident.”
Dergarabedian said “Gone Girl” was not the “typical movie that would appeal to females.” It’s not a romantic comedy, young adult book adaptation or action film with a female central character.
“But typical rules don’t apply anymore at the box office,” he added.
The same reasoning could be applied to New Line’s “Annabelle.”
Contrary to what some might expect for a horror film, the gender breakdown for “Annabelle” was fairly balanced, with female moviegoers making up 51 percent of the audience.
“Annabelle” follows the haunted doll from “The Conjuring,” which in July 2013 cast a spell over audiences and opened to about $41.5 million. It ended up grossing $318 million worldwide.
“For years, it’s been obvious that women love horror movies, but for some reason there’s a stereotype that women wouldn’t like them,” Dergarabedian said. “Women helped drive ‘Anabelle’ to big numbers also.”
The female turnout, he said, “is opening our minds to the fact that there are no rules anymore. Any audience can be found for films if they are properly marketed.”
“Annabelle,” which cost about $6.5 million to make, exceeded studio estimates of about $20 million for opening weekend.
“We’re thrilled with our numbers,” said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution. “And we’ve created a new franchise.”
“Annabelle” did particularly well with Latino moviegoers, especially in Texas. Though Los Angeles was the No. 1 market, Dallas nabbed the No. 2 spot and pushed New York to No. 3.
“We went after that market because we did very well with ‘The Conjuring’ there, and it made sense,” Fellman said. “It was on fire this weekend.”