UPDATE 1-Three films cluster at top of North American movie box office

Sun Sep 23, 2012 3:24pm EDT

By Ronald Grover and Andrea Burzynski

LOS ANGELES, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Police drama "End of Watch" and horror thriller "House at the End of the Street" tied for the top spot at the North American box office this weekend, with Clint Eastwood's "Trouble With the Curve" close behind.

Each of the top films brought in $13 million respectively at U.S. and Canadian box offices.

The gritty "End of Watch," written and directed by the writer of 2001 crime drama "Training Day," David Ayer, brought in $13 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices.

The opening by "End of Watch" was the largest for independent film distribution company Open Road, a 2-year-old joint venture between theater chains AMC and Regal. Its two other films this year, "Hit and Run" and "Silent House," opened with less than $7 million apiece.

Open Road CEO Tom Ortenberg said "End of Watch" was successful because it appealed to a wide swath of moviegoers.

Referring to "End of Watch" as a "smart action movie," Ortenberg added that it is a prototype for the type of films Open Road hopes to make. Its next film, action ensemble "Breacher," is another David Ayer project.

"House at the End of the Street," which features Jennifer Lawrence in her first role since this year's blockbuster "The Hunger Games," also brought in $13 million.

The timing of horror thriller's release capitalized on Lawrence's "Hunger Games" fame, said Relativity president of distribution Kyle Davies. The film primarily targeted young females and did a large share of marketing through mobile-phone-based applications.

The audience for "Street" was 61 percent female, and 70 percent of filmgoers were under 25.

Baseball movie "Trouble with the Curve" was hot on the heels of the top films, taking in $12.7 million, according to box office estimates released on Sunday. The film is Clint Eastwood's first starring role in four years and comes less than a month after his headline-grabbing speech at the Republican national convention.

Rounding out the top five was the 3D re-release of "Finding Nemo" with $9.4 million, and "Resident Evil: Retribution" with $6.7 million. Both films premiered in theaters last weekend.

Futuristic action film "Dredd" disappointed with a mere $6.3 million on its debut weekend, failing to crack the top five and coming in below expectations.

Though the overall box office is down when compared to last year, a couple of independent films have performed strongly.

"The bright spots are the indie films like 'The Master' and 'The Perks of Being A Wallflower,' which are both doing terrific business in their limited runs," said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst at Hollywood.com.

"The Master," which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a charismatic cult leader and has been compared to the story of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, set a new per-screen average record when it opened in limited release last week, and has garnered strong reviews.

This week, the film expanded to take in $5 million in domestic markets, bringing its total domestic gross to $6.1 million so far, and it snagged the No. 7 spot in this weekend's overall box office rankings.

Teen movie "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" starring Emma Watson scored the fourth-highest per-screen average of 2012 with its debut.

DIVIDING UP THE AUDIENCE

The close finish among the top three films was a reflection that the broad slate of new releases, which each targeted a different demographic, divided up the movie-going audience.

Warner Brothers, a unit of Time Warner, released "Trouble with the Curve." Relativity Media released "House at the End of the Street." Open Road Films, a joint venture of the AMC and Regal theater chains, released "End of Watch."

Sony Corp's movie studio released "Resident Evil: Retribution." "Dredd" was released by Lions Gate.

"The Master" was released by the Weinstein Co.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" was released by Summit.

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