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Box office: What kind of a success is Ben Affleck's 'Gone Girl?'

Box office: What kind of a success is Ben Affleck's 'Gone Girl?'
Ben Affleck in a scene from "Gone Girl." The 20th Century Fox thriller, which co-stars Rosamund Pike as a wife who goes missing, edged out the low-budget horror flick "Annabelle" at the box office. (Merrick Morton / 20th Century Fox)

After plenty of mid-production and pre-opening hoopla, "Gone Girl's" box office was undoubtedly solid upon opening this weekend. The David Fincher thriller surpassed some forecasts that had it opening below $30 million to land at $38 million, narrowly edging out the weekend's other wide opener, "Annabelle," the first of the coming crop of supernatural movies. ("Dracula Untold" and "Ouija" await; we can sense your excitement.)

How much of a triumph is the Fincher film? Studio Fox, on a roll after a summer of "X-Men" and "Apes" and faults in stars, can and has claimed it as a triumph. With a budget of about $60 million, the totals should land the studio in the black when all is said and done, no matter the marketing costs. But there are successes and there are successes.  Here are some data points that put in context, favorably and less so, notions about "Gone Girl's" performance.

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 -- It's Fincher's biggest opening ever, some pundits noted. Indeed it is-- and by this point in the director’s career (10 movies and counting) that’s no small thing. Still, it’s worth keeping a number of qualifiers in mind. That statement is true only if you don’t factor in inflation (“Panic Room" made $40 million in today's dollars).  And the biggest opening won't necessarily mean the biggest cume: three previous Fincher movies reached $100 million in the U.S. (”Se7en, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) and two others got to $95M+ (“Panic Room” and “The Social Network”). With a B CinemaScore, it won’t be smooth sailing for “Gone Girl” to reach that company. And the film will almost certainly fall short of Fincher’s all-time high (“Button” at $127 million).

-- It’s also no small thing when an auteur of Fincher's caliber, making a serious movie of this type, can win the weekend. You have to go back more than six months to find a comparable weekend winner (Darren Aronofsky with “Noah) and a full year—in fact, exactly so, to the first weekend of October—to find another example, (Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” which opened to a whopping $55 million, aided by 3-D and Imax screenings).  Still, “Gone Girl” had help those other auteurs and others did not--the benefit of a modern bestseller.

-- Speaking of those, where does "Gone Girl" stack up to other recent big-budget adaptations of popular adult fiction? Pretty favorably, it turns out. The movie fell short of “Shutter Island’s” opening ($41 million) but beat out “The Help,” “Eat Pray Love” and even “Life of Pi,” none of which cracked $30 million. “Gone Girl” was helped by‎ the quick turnaround--many of those examples feature lag times of four or five (or even eight or nine) years between publication and film release. "Gone Girl" hit theaters barely two years after the book hit shelves. The interaction between adult book reading and moviegoing has long been tenuous (“Cloud Atlas," anyone?), but "Gone Girl" gives heart to those who hope for a connection, not to mention fans and studios behind several upcoming adaptations this season, including "Wild" and "Unbroken."

-- Running time. Some will note that the film’s performance should be graded on the curve of its 145-minute running time. This is a frequent question this time of year—will movies of especially robust running times turn off filmgoers, not to mention reduce grosses by limiting daily numbers of screenings? Turns out that running time isn’t as much of a hindrance as these comments suggest. The top three live-action movies last year (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel”) all ran at least 130 minutes. They still took in more than $1.1 billion.

-- Here's a real breakthrough, and one studios hopefully take notice of. With $38 million, "Gone Girl," adapted solely by author Gillian Flynn, becomes only the third weekend winner this year not to feature a male writer ("Maleficent" and "The Other Woman" were the other two).

-- The $38 million is also Ben Affleck's third-biggest opening ever, coming over a nearly two-decade career. But those kinds of facts, it should be noted, can be deceiving--the two openers ahead of it are "Daredevil" and "Pearl Harbor."

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