Ben Affleck's 'Gone Girl' snatches US box office title

Based on a best-selling novel, the film earned strong reviews from critics with an 87 percent positive rating.

American actor Ben Affleck. Picture: Facebook.

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK - 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 US and Canadian movie box offices.

Gone Girl pulled in $38 million over its first three days in domestic theatres, 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 theatres. 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.