David Fincher's "Gone Girl" edged out low-budget horror film "Anabelle" by less than $1 million to claim the top spot at the weekend box office.
Although "Annabelle" posted big numbers early in the weekend, Fincher's thriller ended up on top with a three-day estimated gross of $38 million, while the horror film finished with $37.2 million.
According to entertainment data provider Rentrak, ticket sales for the top 10 films were up 24.3% from the same time last year, when Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar-nominated "Gravity" posted the biggest October debut with about $55.6 million in the U.S. and Canada.
"It's evidence that there's nothing wrong with the business and box office," said Chris Aronson, 20th Century Fox's head of domestic distribution. "Gone Girl" and "Anabelle" are both R-rated films and that's the only thing they have in common. … The great thing is that audiences turned out for both."
Based on the popular novel by Gillian Flynn, Fincher's film follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) after his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), 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 thriller, co-produced by 20th Century Fox and New Regency, cost about $61 million to make. The studios expected a more modest opening of about $20 million.
Both Flynn and Fincher have large fan followings that flocked to the anticipated thriller.
"I think you're always ahead of the game when you have the author of the book adapt the screenplay," Aronson said. "There's a level of authenticity there that you may sacrifice if someone did it. Gillian Flynn and David Fincher became a pretty potent combination."
The film also had the star power behind Affleck and strong female leads: Pike, Kim Dickens as Det. Boney and Carrie Coon as Nick's twin.
"One of Fincher's genius moves -- he makes many -- is the casting of this film," Aronson said.
The film drew in a 60% female audience. The majority of moviegoers -- 75% -- were older than 25.
As of Sunday, the film had notched an 87% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
New Line's "Annabelle," which cost about $6.5 million to make, exceeded studio estimates of about $20 million.
The horror film 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.
"We're thrilled with our numbers," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution. "And we've created a new franchise."
As of Sunday, "Annabelle" had a "fresh" rating of just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film 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."
The gender breakdown for the film was fairly balanced, with female moviegoers making up 51% of the audience.
Antoine Fuqua's "The Equalizer" added $19 million, making it No. 3 for the weekend. Its total U.S. and Canadian gross to date is $64.5 million.
Produced by Sony Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures, the film cost about $55 million to make. The R-rated movie, starring Denzel Washington, is based on the gritty 1985-89 CBS series starring Edward Woodward.
Catering to younger audiences, the animated stop-motion film "The Boxtrolls" and young adult dystopian action film "The Maze Runner" rounded out the top five.
In its sophomore weekend, "The Boxtrolls" added $12.4 million. Its total domestic gross to date is $32.5 million.
"The Maze Runner" added $12 million. It has pulled in $73.9 million in the U.S. and Canada.
"Left Behind," the third wide release to hit theaters this weekend, ended up at No. 6, grossing $6.9 million.
Based on books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the thriller stars Nicolas Cage. Freestyle Releasing expected the film, which cost about $15 million to make, to gross as much as $10 million.
As of Sunday, it had notched a "fresh" rating of just 2% on Rotten Tomatoes and received a grade of B- from CinemaScore.
Meanwhile, Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" remained in the top 10 in its 10th week at the box office. The film added about $3 million to its domestic gross, raising its total to about $323.4 million. It dropped only 19%, the smallest decline among films in the top 10.