UPDATED MONDAY, 2:01 p.m: Gone Girl eked a weekend win over Annabelle in one of the most hotly contested races of the year — and one in which there was no loser. Both movies clocked in above $35 million, the first time that’s happened since early August.

By the thinnest of margins, the David Fincher-Ben Affleck thriller beat The Conjuring spinoff by about $400k, a virtual tie. And considering Annabelle sported a $6.5 million budget, the New Line venture likely will prove the more profitable investment. Not that Fox is going to complain: Given that Gone Girl scored $10 million more than most projections, the bestseller adaptation is well suited for a fall Oscar run in theaters. Fox plans to roll the drama out on more screens this weekend.

The race energized the box office, which was coming off its worst September in six years. Sony’s The Equalizer, which began the box office revival last weekend, dropped just 45% to take a solid third place. The other newcomer last week, The Boxtrolls, flourished from being the only animated and family game in town, dropping less than a third from its debut weekend. The Maze Runner, at No. 5, had a hold that suggests it’s a real YA franchise.

Left Behind lagged far behind the top 5, and Freestyle Releasing will have to maintain its outreach campaign to faith-based groups if it hopes to recoup its $15 million budget, which included some outside marketing to secular demographics because of star Nic Cage.

Still, according to Rentrak, the weekend top 10 surged 22% over the same frame last year, when Gravity opened to $55.7 million. Studios will cross their fingers that this triggers a fall rally, as overall ticket sales are down 4.8% from 2013’s pace.

The Monday figures:

1). Gone Girl (FOX), 3014 theaters /3-day cume: $37.5M/ Total cume: $37.5M / Wk 1
2). Annabelle (WB), 3185 theaters /3-day ecume: $37.1M/ Total cume: $37.1M /Wk 1
3). The Equalizer (SONY), 3236 theaters (0)/$3-day cume: $18.7M/ Total cume: $64.2M (-45%/ Wk 2
4). The Boxtrolls (FOC), 3464 theaters (0)/3-day cume: $11.9M / Total cume: $32.0M (-31%) /Wk 2
5). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3605 theaters (-33)/ 3-day cume: $11.6M / Total cume: $73.5M / Wk 3
6). Left Behind (Freestyle), 1825 theaters /3-day cume: $6.3M/ Total cume: $6.3M /Wk 1
7). This is Where I Leave You (WB), 2735 theaters (-133) /3-day cume: $4.0M / Total cume: $29.0M /Wk 3
8). Dolphin Tale 2 (WB), 2790 theaters (-586) /3-day cume: $3.4M/ Total cume: $37.8M /Wk 4
9). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 1894 theaters (-557) /3-day cume: $3.0M/ Total cume: $323.3M /Wk 10
10). No Good Deed (SONY), 1580 theaters (-550)/3-day cume: $2.5M / Total cume: $50.1M /Wk 4\

UPDATED SUNDAY, 8:29 a.m.: The dead-heat sprint to the weekend finish by Gone Girl and Annabelle did more than give a much-needed box-office boost after weeks of anemic results; it saw a role reversal of sorts for R-rated films. Gone Girl showed surprising social-media muscle for an adult drama, while Annabelle exerted unusual grip over its audiences for a horror flick.

Gone Girl appeared likely to win by a nose with an estimated $9 million Sunday and a $37.5 million three-day haul. Annabelle looked to frighten up $7.5 million Sunday for a $37+-million weekend. Regardless of final tally, the showdown marked a rebound from a dismal September, which had the lowest grosses in six years. This weekend marked the first since Aug. 8 to feature two movies topping $30 million each.

How they got there, seemingly no one saw coming. Both made hugely successful pushes on social media, with Annabelle dominating on YouTube. Gone Girl, perhaps more surprisingly, ruled on Facebook and Twitter, though both those platforms have a broader, and therefore significantly older, demographic more closely aligned with the film’s sensibilities.

RelishMix, which tracks film and TV properties on social media, counted 16.2 million YouTube views for Annabelle’s trailers and promotional videos, not an uncommon volume for a horror picture, given the genre’s sturdy fan base. But Gone Girl, a bestseller adaptation, mustered a respectable 9.2 million YouTube views, along with 30.1 million Facebook and 18.7 million Twitter hits. Annabelle conjured 2.4 million Facebook posts, 2.8 million Tweets. Neither film earned overwhelming audience endorsements, earning “B” CinemaScores. Yet both debuts’ projected final results dwarfed tracking estimates, which projected the movies would come in somewhere in the mid-20’s.

Chris Aronson, Fox’s head of domestic distribution, said he plans to increase Gone Girl‘s theater count from its current 3,014 screen tally for next weekend. “We wanted to be everywhere, but not every everywhere this weekend,” he said. “Now there’s a conversation going that people want to be a part of.”

Annabelle is likely front-loaded for this weekend, but, at only $6.5 million in negative costs, it doesn’t need legs to come home in the black. WB domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman said the studio was careful not to advertise Annabelle as a prequel to The Conjuring, last year’s low-cost big horror hit to which it is loosely connected. That film’s true sequel won’t arrive until Oct. 23 of next year, though Fox marketing did vigorously use that creepy, possessed doll from the first pic. Annabelle scored the highest debut of the year for a horror film, crushing The Purge: Anarchy‘s bow of $29.8 million in July.

Holdovers also flourished, as The Equalizer and The Boxtrolls avoided the second-week plummets that plagued September. The films claimed third and fourth place respectively, helping propel weekend sales to about $150 million, up 18% over the same weekend last year.

The only other major newcomer was Freestyle Releasing’s Left Behind, based on the faith-based series of apocalyptic thrillers written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The film, which stars Nicolas Cage and Chad Michael Murray, was itself left behind, in a distant sixth place with about $6.6 million. The film’s fans should indeed have faith, however. The genre typically has a strong multiplier as true believers continue to see a film long after its debut.

The Sunday projections:

1). Gone Girl (FOX), 3014 theaters / $13.2MFri. / 15.2MSat. (+15%) /$9.1M Sun. (-40%)/3-day est. cume: 37.5M/ Total cume: $37.5M / Wk 1
2). Annabelle (WB), 3185 theaters /$15.45MFri. / 14.1MSat. (-10%) / $7.65M Sun (-45%) /3-day est. cume: $37.15M/ Total cume: $37.15M /Wk 1
3). The Equalizer (SONY), 3236 theaters (0)/ $5.6M Fri. / 8.4MSat. (+51%) / 4.8M Sun. (-45%) /$3-day est. cume: $18.9M (-45%) / Total cume: $64.4M / Wk 2
4). The Boxtrolls (FOC), 3464 theaters (0)/ $2.7M Fri. / 5.9M Sat. (+115%) / $3.8M Sun. (-35%) /3-day est. cume: $12.4M (-28%) / Total cume: $32.5M /Wk 2
5). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3605 theaters (-33) / $3.4M Fri. / 5.5M Sat. (+60%) /$3M Sun. (-45%) /3-day est. cume: $11.95M / Total cume: $73.9M / Wk 3
6). Left Behind (Freestyle), 1825 theaters / $2.3M Fri. / 2.4M Sat. (+1%) /$1.85M Sun. (-25%) /3-day est. cume: $6.65M/ Total cume: $6.65M /Wk 1
7). This is Where I Leave You (WB), 2735 theaters (-133) / $1.2M Fri. / 1.8M Sat. (+50%) / $965K Sun. /3-day est. cume: $4M / Total cume: $29M /Wk 3
8). Dolphin Tale 2 (WB), 2790 theaters (-586) / $798K Fri. /1.7M Sat. (+118%) / $970K Sun. (-45%) /3-day est. cume: $3.5M/ Total cume: 38M /Wk 4
9). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 1894 theaters (-557) / $794K Fri. / 1.45M Sat. (+83%) / $801K Sun. (-45%) / 3-day est. cume: $3M/ Total cume: $323M /Wk 10
10). No Good Deed (SONY), 1580 theaters (-550)/ $741K Fri. / 1.2M Sat. (+66%) / $582K Sun. (-52%)/ 3-day est. cume: $2.55M / Total cume: 50.2M /Wk 4

UPDATED SATURDAY, 11:19 pm.: The box office has one of its tightest races in months as Gone Girl surged Saturday, but Annabelle held surprisingly well for a horror film. Both R-rated movies head into Sunday projected to bring in $37-$38 million — well above projections and an impressive performance over the Yom Kippur holiday.

As expected, Gone Girl appeared to overtake its horror opponent Saturday, as strong reviews and older audiences partial to weekend moviegoing gave the David Fincher-Ben Affleck thriller the daily crown with $15+ million, putting it on course for a $37+ million three-day opening.

But The Conjuring spinoff Annabelle, which was the top grosser Friday night, held with unexpected strength, dropping less than 10% from Friday to scare up $14+ million and a solid second place. If projections hold, it, too, steams into Sunday with projections at $37+ million for the $6.5-million film. The movie is still likely a one-weekend performer, as most horror flicks are, but it gives serious heat to The Conjuringg franchise. The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist haunts theaters Oct. 23, 2015.

The dead heat has energized the box office, which will see its first weekend since Aug. 8 to have two movies collect more than $30 million. The last time it happened, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted to $65.5 million, defeating Guardians of the Galaxy, which drew $42.1 million in its sophomore frame. But audiences appear ready for fall’s darker tone. Both The Equalizer and The Boxtrolls had strong Saturdays and appear bound for strong week-two holds.

The Saturday night estimates:

1). Gone Girl (FOX), 3014 theaters / $13.2MFri. / 15.25MSat. /3-day est. cume: 38M/ Wk 1
2). Annabelle (WB), 3185 theaters /$15.45MFri. / 14.3MSat. / 3-day est. cume: $37M+/ Wk 1
3). The Equalizer (SONY), 3236 theaters (0)/ $5.6M Fri. / 8.4MSat. / $3-day est. cume: $18M+ (-44%) / Wk 2
4). The Boxtrolls (FOC), 3464 theaters (0)/ $2.7M Fri. / 6M+ Sat. / 3-day est. cume: $12.5M (-27%) / Wk 2
5). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3605 theaters (-33) / $3.4M Fri. / 5.5M Sat. /3-day est. cume: $12M / Wk 3


UPDATED SATURDAY, 9:52 .m.: The Yom Kippur holiday hasn’t slowed Annabelle or Gone Girl, which have broken to healthy starts at the box office and ballooned projections for both above $30 million. And while the front-loaded Annabelle took Friday, Gone Girl‘s more patient older audiences will likely give it the weekend win.

Annabelle will become only the second horror movie of the year to open above $20 million, thanks to a $15+ million Friday that puts it on course for a formidable $32 million bow.

'Gone Girl' Looking to Beat 'Annabelle' At Weekend B.O.Gone Girl could be the biggest surprise of the early fall season. It collected $12-$13 million, which could put it on course for $35-$38 million, well above Fox’s conservative estimate of $22-$24 million. And with an approval rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, word-of-mouth stronger for the David Finch-Ben Affleck thriller than it will be for Annabelle, as the older audience is more likely to read reviews. Both earned “B” grades from CinemaScore.

Both are benefitting from a huge social media push, one that Annabelle has dominated on YouTube but trailed to Gone Girl on Facebook and Twitter, says trackers RelishMix. Annabelle’s trailers and promotional videos garnered 16.2 million views, compared to 9.2 million for Gone Girl. But the bestseller adaptation dwarfed the horror flick across the rest of the social media universe, prompting 30.1 million Facebook posts and 18.7 million Tweets. Annabelle conjured 2.4 million posts, 2.8 million Tweets.

'Left Behind' Nicolas Cage Film Losing At B.O.And while Left Behind was expected to lag, it wasn’t by this much. Playing on less than 1,800 screens, it plucked $1.5-$2 million on Friday, putting the Freestyle Releasing pic on a trajectory of $7-$8 million three-day weekend. The Nic Cage thriller, which earned a “B-” CinemaScore, will struggle to make the weekend top five, though it faced unexpected fierce competition.

The Equalizer will likely capture third place with a solid hold of $5+ million on Friday, which should boost it to a $19 million weekend.. The surprise hold, though, remains The Maze Runner, which is seeing drops of less than 40%, which should give it a fourth-place weekend in its third week of release. Not bad. And The Boxtrolls continues to linger in the top 5, and could be the first animated film since How to Train Your Dragon 2 descended in June to show legs. It will likely claim fifth place. In limited release, Reese Witherspoon’s The Good Lie looks shaky. The drama about the lost boys of the Sudan didn’t find much Friday, collecting about $300,000 on 461 screens, which could keep it below $1 million and out of the top 10 for the weekend.

The early estimates:

1). Gone Girl (FOX), 3014 theaters / $13.2MFri. / 3-day est. cume: 37M+/ Wk 1
2). Annabelle (WB), 3185 theaters / $15.45MFri. / 3-day est. cume: $32M+/ Wk 1
3). The Equalizer (SONY), 3236 theaters (0)/ $5.6M Fri. / $3-day est. cume: $18M (-44%) / Wk 2
4). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3605 theaters (-33) / $3.4M Fri. /3-day est. cume: $11.6M / Wk 3
5). The Boxtrolls (FOC), 3464 theaters (0)/ $2.7M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $10.4M (-38%) / Wk 2
6). Left Behind (Freestyle), 1825 theaters / $2.3M Fri. / $ 3-day est. cume: $7.5M / Wk 1
7). This is Where I Leave You (WB), 2735 theaters (-133) / $1.2M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $4M / Wk 3
8). Dolphin Tale 2 (WB), 2790 theaters (-586) / $798K Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $3.04M/ Wk 4
9). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 1894 theaters (-557) / $794K Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $2.9-3M/ Wk 10

10). No Good Deed (SONY), 1580 theaters (-550)/ $741K Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $2.4M/ Wk 4UPDATED FRIDAY, 7:54 AM
:  Annabelle and Gone Girl got off to solid starts in their Thursday screenings, adding to their weekend expectations. As expected, the horror flick Annabelle took the early lead, thanks to younger-skewing fans who prefer turning out for late shows during the week. The New Line film scared up $2.1 million. Given the weakness of this year’s horror slate, it’s a solid start that could make it only the second horror flick to open above $20 million in 2014. It managed to eclipse Paranormal Activity 2, which saw Thursday grosses of $1.5 million in 2010.

Related: Pete Hammond Reviews ‘Annabelle’

Gone Girl hardly vanished from the derby, though. The Ben Affleck thriller snatched $1.2 million, a healthy start for a film that will see most of its revenues come later in the weekend, thanks to older moviegoers. Both numbers are strong for R-rated flicks, and both could reach the high range of weekend projections. By comparison, Captain Phillips opened to $600,000 on its opening Thursday night last year on its way to a $25.7 million bow.

Related: Pete Hammond Reviews ‘Gone Girl’

UPDATE, THURSDAY 8:30 PM: Adult moviegoers get another plate of options this weekend as crime, a horror film spun off of last year’s The Conjuring and Christianity dominate a slate of newcomers that could be in one of the more contested box office derbies in months. And while the David Fincher-Ben Affleck pairing Gone Girl appears to have a late advantage, tracking has been as predictable as lottery numbers lately — and two of the three newcomers populate particularly tough genres to predict: horror and faith-based films.

It is yet to be seen how Yom Kippur will impact moviegoing Friday. The Jewish holiday might dampen ticket sales on Friday and Saturday, but box office could use a rebound after a dismal September, which saw revenues of $513 million, the lowest-grossing September since 2008.

Gone GirlGone Girl blistered from its appearance at the New York Film Festival with critics raving and analysts bumping forecasts from $20 million to anywhere from the mid-20s. Produced by 20th Century Fox and New Regency, Gone Girl was expected to be an early salvo in the Oscar race. But an unflagging marketing strategy beckoning adults to the $61M+, R-rated film has gained traction in the past week; Fandango reports that the thriller is accounting for 66% of its advanced sales and is outpacing sales for Affleck’s Oscar winner Argo. That film opened to $19.4M and would collect $136M cume — along with a raft of Oscars.

Still, Fox remained conservative in its estimates. The studio says it expects between $22M to $23M, and is using adult dramas Argo, The Town ($23.8M) and Captain Phillips ($25.7M) as comps. Tracking appears strongest in moviegoers ages 45 to 60 — a good sign for its prospective theatrical runs, as older audiences rely more heavily on reviews and word-of-mouth, which have thus far been strong. Opening on 3,000+ screens, Gone Girl has the best chance of being a breakout — particularly if fans of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller show up.

Annabelle doll headshotLess predictable is the fate of the $6.5M horror flick Annabelle, from James Wan, the producer who directed 2013 hit The Conjuring. Just last year, The Conjuring scared up a debut of $41.8M, The Purge came in with $34M, and Mama took $28.4M — all opening north of $20 million. This year, only The Purge: Anarchy ($29.8M) bowed above $20M. Directed by Conjuring cinematographer John R. Leonetti, Annabelle opens on 3,185 screens, and analysts are comparing the New Line film to last year’s Insidious: Chapter 2, which opened to $40.2M in September 2013. The comparison isn’t completely fair, though, as Insidious was rated PG-13, compared to Annabelle’s R-rating, which will keep its teen turnout limited. Warner Bros said it would be happy with anything above $20M, and that is in the range of others who say, maybe around $22M. Tracking strongest with men and women younger than 25, the movie likely will triple its production cost in the first weekend. It will break from the gate quickly, as horror films tend to draw Friday night crowds, before giving ground to Gone Girl audiences over the weekend..

Left BehindOn fewer than 1,800 screens, the Rapture-based Nicolas Cage drama Left Behind likely will be just that this weekend, though it need only connect with its core fan base to succeed. With a production cost of about $15 million, the second adaptation of the wildly popular novel comes from Freestyle Releasing, which is looking for a debut similar to the studio’s surprise faith-based hit God’s Not Dead, the Christian title that opened to $9.2 million on its way to $60.7 million in March. That movie, though, opened on just 780 screens. Another faith-based film, February’s Son Of God, opened to $25.6 million on its way to $59.7 million. That film, though, had Fox as a distributor and opened on 3,260 screens.

The Good LieWarners’ The Good Lie, Reese Witherspoon’s drama about the lost boys of the Sudan, will open on 461 screens and is eyeing a debut between $2M to $2.5M. The studio is positioning the PG-13 feel-good story as one of Witherspoon’s finest performances and as alternative programming to the grim tone of the slate of newcomers.

In their second frames,  The Equalizer and The Boxtrolls look to remain in the top 5, and the last time the Equalizer team of Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington paired up, for 2001’s Training Day, the movie dipped just 40% in its sophomore weekend. Equalizer likely won’t hold as well in a crowded R-rated field, but it could cannibalize Gone Girl‘s debut. Boxtrolls should see a nice hold on the weekend with kids, as it’s the first animated movie to hit screens since How To Train Your Dragon 2 in June. Boxtrolls, which opened to $17.2M, remains the only family movie in theaters until next week’s Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.