Movie thriller "Gone Girl," starring Ben Affleck as a man suspected of causing his wife's disappearance, overcame a demonic doll named "Annabelle" to win a tight weekend race at U.S. and Canadian movie box offices.
"Gone Girl" pulled in $38 million over its first three days in domestic theaters, according to estimates released Sunday by tracking firm Rentrak. Horror flick "Annabelle" ranked close behind with $37.2 million.
Last weekend's No. 1 film, thriller "The Equalizer" starring Denzel Washington, dropped to third. The movie collected $19 million over the weekend and brought its cumulative domestic sales to $64.5 million.
"Gone Girl," based on a best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, earned strong reviews from critics, with an 87 percent positive rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes.
Affleck stars as a writer who is caught in a media circus when his wife goes missing and the police suspect he is responsible. Rosamund Pike plays his wife.
"There was a confluence of events that created an urgency to see this thought-provoking film," said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox, the unit of 21st Century Fox that released the $61 million film.
"This is a water cooler movie and I think it will play and play and play," said Aronson, adding that it marked "The Social Network" director David Fincher's biggest-ever opening and that the studio had expected an opening of about $25 million.
Aronson said the 60 percent female, 40 percent male audience had skewed a bit more male than he had expected, saying "It's becoming a bit of a date movie."
Horror fans turned out for "Annabelle," a spin-off of last year's hit "The Conjuring." The low-budget movie produced for just $6.5 million tells the story of a young husband and wife who become terrorized by a porcelain doll given as a gift.
"We're very pleased," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., a Time Warner Inc unit, noting the film exceeded expectations across the marketplace but performed especially well with Hispanic moviegoers.
Fellman said the studio would have been happy with a total over $20 million, "but we're looking at nearly $40 million."
Both executives pointed to strong box office numbers across the board, after a tepid summer and a slow September.
Elsewhere, animated movie "The Boxtrolls" took fourth place with $12.4 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters. Young adult thriller "The Maze Runner" finished fifth, grossing $12 million.
Biblical thriller "Left Behind," which was panned by critics, debuted in sixth place with $6.9 million.