George Clooney in 'The American'

Crime paid at the box office this Labor Day weekend. The top three movies were all about killers and thieves, led by George Clooney's 'The American.' The contemplative assassin drama earned an estimated $16.4 million over the four-day weekend and a total of $19.5 million since it opened last Wednesday.

Neck-and-neck for second place were fellow newcomer 'Machete' and last week's winner, 'Takers.' Robert Rodriguez's razor-sharp revenge thriller had an estimated four-day total of $14.0 million, compared to an estimated $13.5 million for the stylish heist caper. That's after three-day estimates yesterday placed 'Takers' just $150,000 ahead of 'Machete.' (In its second week, 'Takers' still had the highest per-screen average, with $6,120, and its Friday-to-Sunday total was just 44 percent less than last week's, suggesting that the film will have some staying power at the box office.) Indeed, 'Machete' and 'Takers' were so close that there could be another reversal by the time final studio figures are released on Tuesday.
George Clooney in 'The American'

Crime paid at the box office this Labor Day weekend. The top three movies were all about killers and thieves, led by George Clooney's 'The American.' The contemplative assassin drama earned an estimated $16.4 million over the four-day weekend and a total of $19.5 million since it opened last Wednesday.

Neck-and-neck for second place were fellow newcomer 'Machete' and last week's winner, 'Takers.' Robert Rodriguez's razor-sharp revenge thriller had an estimated four-day total of $14.0 million, compared to an estimated $13.5 million for the stylish heist caper. That's after three-day estimates yesterday placed 'Takers' just $150,000 ahead of 'Machete.' (In its second week, 'Takers' still had the highest per-screen average, with $6,120, and its Friday-to-Sunday total was just 44 percent less than last week's, suggesting that the film will have some staying power at the box office.) Indeed, 'Machete' and 'Takers' were so close that there could be another reversal by the time final studio figures are released on Tuesday.

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long in 'Going the Distance'There was a similarly tight race for fourth place between last week's No. 2, 'The Last Exorcism,' and new romantic comedy 'Going the Distance.' According to estimates, 'Exorcism' scared up another $8.8 million over the four-day holiday, while 'Distance' was close behind with $8.6 million. 'Exorcism's' Friday-to-Sunday total was $7.6 million, down a dismal 63 percent from last week, due perhaps to poor word of mouth from viewers irked by the film's abrupt and baffling ending.

Having failed to open above $10 million, 'Distance' has to be considered a disappointment. The Drew Barrymore romantic comedy had the most screens of any new movie this week (about 200 more than 'The American' and 350 more than 'Machete') but the lowest per-screen average ($2,838).

The full top 10 (four-day weekend totals):
1. 'The American,' $16.4 million (2,823 screens), $19.5 million total
2. 'Machete,' $14.0 million (2,670), new release
3. 'Takers,' $13.5 million (2,206), $40.0 million, new release
4. 'The Last Exorcism,' $8.8 million (2,874), $33.6 million
5. 'Going the Distance,' $8.6 million (3,030), new release
6. 'The Expendables,' $8.5 million (3,398), $94.1 million
7. 'The Other Guys,' $6.7 million (2,607 screens), $108.1 million
8. 'Eat Pray Love,' $6.3 million (2,663), $70.4 million
9. 'Inception,' $5.9 million (1,704), $278.4 million
10. 'Nanny McPhee Returns,' $4.7 million (2,708), $23.5 million

•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.