TEENAGE DREAM Karl Urban plays cop Jude Dredd after aspiring for decades for the role
Credit: Joe Alblas

The box office blues continued during this sad September weekend, when four new releases entered theaters, yet none surpassed $13 million.

In fact, September 2012 is proving to be one of the slowest months at the movies in a decade. As of this weekend, ticket sales have amounted to $357.3 million — 21 percent lower than the same point in the month last year, and the lowest September total since 2004, when month-to-date ticket sales equaled $356.3 million. (Keep in mind, 2004 didn't have the benefit of 3-D ticket prices.) Nothing seems to be engaging audiences in a substantial way.

But that's not to say the box office was totally dead this weekend.

Tied for first place was Open Road's Jake Gyllenhaal/Michael Pena crime drama End of Watch, which earned an estimated $13.0 million out of 2,730 theaters, yielding a mild per-theater average of $4,762. The gritty cop film, which has earned strong reviews overall, was independently financed for a reported budget somewhere between $7 million and $15 million (an Open Road spokesperson did not confirm the budget when reached via email), and then acquired by Open Road for $2 million.

End of Watch opened in the same range as Gyllenhaal's last vehicle, 2011's Source Code, which bowed with $14.8 million, but it started higher than the effort before that, romantic dramedy Love and Other Drugs, which debuted with $9.7 million in 2010. Though Gyllenhaal's star burns brightly in Hollywood, the oft-bearded actor has never truly proven his drawing power at the box office. Still, thanks to strong word of mouth, End of Watch, which audiences issued an "A-" CinemaScore grade, may prove to be an under-the-radar box office winner for the star.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

The critically reviled horror film The House at the End of the Street finished in a dead heat with End of Watch, as it also earned an estimated $13.0 million, giving it a tepid per theater average of $4,227.

Distributor Relativity spent $2.5 million to acquire U.S. rights for the film, which was produced by Film Nation and A Bigger Boat for $10 million. The studio hoped to capitalize on star Jennifer Lawrence's increased notoriety by releasing the film shortly after the much-publicized home market debut of The Hunger Games, which hit retailers on August 18.

Exit polls reveal that House's audience was comprised mostly of young women — a demo not hugely affected by the start of football season. According to Relativity, 70 percent of crowds were below the age of 25, and 61 percent were female. Interestingly, a whopping 52 percent of the audience was Latino. Unfortunately, crowds weren't especially enthusiastic about what they saw — the film earned a lukewarm "B" CinemaScore grade.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

In third place (for now — the Top 3 could all shift slots once actual grosses are reported on Monday), Clint Eastwood's baseball drama Trouble with the Curve batted up $12.7 million from 3,212 theaters, giving the sports drama a cool $3,960 theater average. The Warner Bros. film, which cost just under $30 million to make, got off to a slower-than-expected start (way behind Moneyball's $19.5 million bow), but it it's far from a disaster. Trouble opened at the same level as Disney's 2010 horse-racing drama Secretariat, which bowed to $12.7 million and finished with $59.7 million total. It should be noted, though, that Secretariat earned an "A" CinemaScore, while Curve only earned a "B+."

It is unclear whether Clint Eastwood's endlessly talked-about chat with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention had any effect on the film's box office, but Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' President of Domestic Distribution, doesn't believe it did. "It absolutely had no bearing whatsoever," he says. "As a matter of fact, it may have helped." Fellman points out strong performances in predominantly Democratic markets like New York City and Boston.

Curve's audience was made up of much older patrons — 83 percent of audiences were above the age of 25 and 50 percent were above the age of 50. (So much for drawing youngsters with star Justin Timberlake.) That demographic doesn't rush out to the theater for an opening weekend the way young fans of The House at the End of the Street might, so Trouble with the Curve will likely endure at the box office better than most films. Just last month, Meryl Streep's marital drama Hope Springs, which also played to a substantially older audience, opened with $14.7 million, but it has quietly earned $62.2 million total. Trouble with the Curve is unlikely to climb that high, but it could finish in the ballpark of $45-50 million.

Disney's 3-D re-release of Finding Nemo finished in fourth place, swimming away with another $9.4 million — a drop of 43 percent. The re-release has now grossed $30.0 million, putting it behind the pace of Beauty and the Beast 3D, which had earned $33.6 million at the same point in its run.

Rounding out the Top 5 was Screen Gems' $65 million sequel Resident Evil: Retribution, which dropped 69 percent to $6.7 million, giving the zombified thriller a ten day total of $33.5 million. Though the film will likely peter out around the $45 million mark (which would be the lowest total for a Resident Evil film since the 2002 original), Sony boasts that international sales continue to surge, and after two weekends, the film has already grossed $103.4 million overseas.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Just outside the Top 5, Lionsgate's Dredd 3D flopped with $6.3 million from 2,506 theaters, giving it an awful per theater average of $2,514.

The Karl Urban-starring feature marks the second time the popular helmeted comic book character Judge Dredd has flopped at the box office. The $90 million 1995 adaptation Judge Dredd also misfired, earning a paltry $35.7 million total. Dredd 3D, which cost IM Global $50 million (Lionsgate is quick to point out that they acquired the film and only paid for prints and advertising), will be lucky to earn even half that amount. The film earned a "B" CinemaScore grade.

In seventh place, The Master expanded from 5 to 788 theaters and took in $5.0 million as a result. Though the Paul Thomas Anderson film's $6,345 theater average was the best in the Top 10, many question whether The Weinstein Co. was smart (from both a business and an Oscar campaign standpoint) to expand the film after just one weekend in limited release. The Master has earned $6.1 million in its first ten days.

Another buzzy limited release, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, made a big splash in its debut weekend, grossing $244,000 from just 4 theaters, which gave the Emma Watson vehicle a sizzling $61,000 average. The strong result bodes well for Perks, which Summit will expand into wide release the weeks to come.

1. End of Watch – $13.0 million

1. The House at the End of the Street – $13.0 million

3. Trouble with the Curve – $12.7 million

4. Finding Nemo – $9.4 million

5. Resident Evil: Retribution – $6.7 million

5. Dredd 3D – $6.3 million

7. The Master – $5.0 million

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – $244,000

Check back next weekend for full box office coverage of Looper, Hotel Transylvania, and Won't Back Down, and follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute box office updates and random analysis.

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