Ben Affleck really went to town at the box office this weekend. The actor/director/co-screenwriter of 'The Town' saw his crime drama perform much better than expected in its debut, taking in an estimated $23.8 million to open in first place and upsetting the widely predicted winner, fellow newbie 'Easy A.'
Affleck's film, his second as a director, was expected to open in second place with a take of around $15 to $17 million. Credit its overperformance to strong reviews and positive word of mouth, as well as its status as the first serious dramatic Oscar hopeful to come out of the gate this season. In fact, the movie wound up doing better in its first three days than the $20.3 million that Affleck's previous film, the similar Boston crime thriller 'Gone Baby Gone,' earned during its entire run in 2007.
It was 'Easy A' that was supposed to have an easy path to No. 1 this weekend. It's the only new comedy, with a youth-friendly PG-13 rating, broad appeal to teens of both sexes (and to adults who remember the John Hughes teen comedies of the '80s to which 'Easy A' frequently tips its hat) and positive reviews, especially for its appealing star, Emma Stone. Although the movie had to settle for second place, it still earned about as much as expected, taking in an estimated $18.2 million.
The rest of the box office battle played out more or less as predicted. Opening in third place was 'Devil,' the only new horror film of the week. The movie, the first in the 'Night Chronicles' series of low-budget horror releases produced by M. Night Shyamalan, 'Devil' scared up an estimated $12.6 million.
'Devil' had to share a genre audience with last week's champ, 'Resident Evil: Afterlife.' That film slipped to fourth place and lost 62 percent of its business, for an estimated take of $10.1 million. That second-week drop is typical for this franchise, but with a total so far of $44 million, 'Afterlife' is on target to be the highest grossing of the four 'Resident Evil' movies.
Opening in fifth place was the 3-D animal cartoon 'Alpha and Omega' opened with just $9.2 million. It was the only new children's film in a marketplace currently devoid of family fare, but its marketing campaign was barely visible, so few kids and their parents were likely aware of the film. Plus, it had to fight the zombies of 'Resident Evil' for 3-D screen real estate.
Near the bottom of the top 10, 'Inception' and 'The Other Guys' were only an estimated $15,000 apart in the battle for eighth place, while 'Machete' and 'Eat Pray Love' were in a dead heat at $1.7 million each in the fight for the No. 10 spot. When final numbers come in on Monday, it's likely that only one of those last two movies will get to keep its top 10 bragging rights.
The full top 10:
1. 'The Town,' $23.8 million (2,861 screens), new release
2. 'Easy A,' $18.2 million (2,856), new release
3. 'Devil,' $12.6 million (2,809), new release
4. 'Resident Evil: Afterlife,' $10.1 million (3,209), $44.0 million total
5. 'Alpha and Omega,' $9.2 million (2,625), new release
6. 'Takers,' $3.0 million (2,139), $52.3 million
7. 'The American,' $2.8 million (2,457 screens), $32.9 million
8. 'Inception,' $2.02 million (1,305), $285.2 million
9. 'The Other Guys,' $2.0 million (1,827), $115.4 million
10. 'Machete,' $1.7 million (1,704), $24.3 million
10. 'Eat Pray Love,' $1.7 million (1,668), $77.7 million
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.