Allie MacDonald, left, and Jennifer Lawrence star "House at the End… (Relativity Media )
Two of young Hollywood's biggest stars beat out a grizzled industry veteran at the box office this weekend — but just barely.
Jake Gyllenhaal's cop drama "End of Watch" and Jennifer Lawrence's horror vehicle "House at the End of the Street" tied for the No. 1 weekend position, each grossing a decent $13 million.
Clint Eastwood's baseball drama, "Trouble With the Curve," didn't hit a home run with opening weekend audiences, as the movie debuted with a slightly lower sum of $12.7 million.
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The big weekend loser, however, was "Dredd 3D," the science-fiction action film based on a British comic strip that was able to muster up only $6.3 million in sales. It barely performed better than "The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson's drama that played this weekend in only 788 theaters, while "Dredd" screened in roughly 2,500 locations. After debuting with record-breaking numbers in five cinemas last weekend, the Weinstein Co. film about a Scientology-esque cult leader took in an impressive $5 million upon its nationwide expansion.
For the fourth consecutive weekend, ticket sales were down compared with the same period in 2011. Receipts dropped 25% this weekend when stacked up with the same three-day period last year.
"End of Watch" received the most positive critical reviews of any of the weekend's new wide releases, and audiences liked it best as well. Those who saw the film assigned it an average grade of A-minus, according to the market research firm CinemaScore. Eastwood's "Curve" received a B-plus grade, while "Dredd 3D" and "House at the End of the Street" each earned a B.
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"End of Watch" stars Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as LAPD officers who form a close bond as they work the streets of South-Central L.A. together. The film was financed by Emmett/Furla Films and Exclusive Media, but Open Road Films acquired North American distribution rights for about $2 million.
The movie is the latest of Gyllenhaal's low-to-mid-budget films to perform modestly at the domestic box office. Last year, the 31-year-old actor's sci-fi thriller "Source Code" grossed a decent $54.7 million at the U.S. box office, while his romantic drama "Love and Other Drugs" took in a more disappointing $32.4 million in 2010.
The movie, which was marketed heavily on Spanish-language television outlets such as Univision and Telemundo, attracted a 32% Latino audience — a higher-than-average percentage for the ethnicity. Still, Latino moviegoers were even more interested in seeing "House at the End of the Street," which drew a 52% Latino crowd.
"House" is the first film that Lawrence has appeared in since the release of the blockbuster "The Hunger Games" in March. The actress, who rose to fame after her Oscar-nominated turn in 2010's "Winter's Bone," recently began generating awards buzz again after her upcoming dramedy, "Silver Linings Playbook," debuted to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival this month.
"We could have released this film earlier in the year, but the thought was to wait until after the release of 'The Hunger Games' [in March]," said Kyle Davies, Relativity's president of theatrical distribution. "Her star was certainly rising, and we thought that could be advantageous to us. And it certainly was."
However, the 22-year-old actress won't experience that same level of success with "House at the End of the Street," in which she stars as a girl who moves to an eerie new neighborhood with her mother. The film was expected to debut with about $18 million, but it couldn't rake in enough young females to defeat "End of Watch." "House" appealed to a 61% female crowd, and 70% of the audience was under age 25.
The movie, produced by FilmNation Entertainment and A Bigger Boat for $10 million, was acquired by Relativity Media last year for about $2.5 million. The film is the studio's first release since April, when its Edgar Allan Poe thriller "The Raven" tanked in theaters.
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Warner Bros.' "Trouble With the Curve" is the first movie that 82-year-old Eastwood has acted in — but not directed — in nearly two decades. He plays a baseball scout who must work on his troubled relationship with his daughter (played by Amy Adams) when he starts losing his vision.
Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution, brushed off the suggestion that Eastwood's recent speech at the Republican National Convention — during which he spoke to an empty chair — alienated potential moviegoers.
"On Friday, ticket sales in Boston and New York — good Democratic marketplaces — were a little soft, and I was concerned," Fellman admitted. "But on Saturday, those markets both exploded. When it comes to Clint, he's a unique guy, but he's got a real loyal fan base. I think his audience will turn up in the next few weeks."