Box Office: Denzel Washington's 'The Equalizer' Scores $35 Million Debut

Family outing 'The Boxtrolls' outpaces 'Coraline' and 'ParaNorman'; 'Equalizer' far more muted overseas

Denzel Washington's The Equalizer proved the actor's continuing popularity at the North American box office, debuting to an estimated $35 million from 3,236 theaters and marking the third-best opening of his career. It's also the top September opening for an R-rated movie.

Overseas, the $55 million action thriller was far more muted, earning $17.8 million from 62 markets. Generally speaking, Washington's movies do the majority of their business in the U.S. Instead, 20th Century Fox's holdover The Maze Runner won the international race, taking in another $27.5 million from 62 territories for an early worldwide total of $149 million.

Equalizer, reuniting Washington with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, is based on the 1980s TV series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim and skewed older in North America, with 65 percent of ticket buyers over the age of 30. Audiences gave the film an A- CinemaScore, in line with strong reviews. It played more evenly than expected gender-wise, with males making up 52 percent of the audience, and females, 48 percent.

"He's one of the few actors on the planet that really appeals to everyone. And he and Antoine just bring out the best in each other," Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer said.

Heading into the weekend, Sony was conservative in its projections, suggesting a launch in the $25 million to $30 million range. It's no surprise, considering how volatile the domestic box office has been in recent months. Still, the studio was so keen on Equalizer's prospects following its premiere at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival that it was already developing a sequel. It made Equalizer with Village Roadshow Pictures and LStar Capital.

Washington's top opening of all time is American Gangster ($43.6 million) in 2007, followed by Safe House ($40.2 million) in 2012. Rival studios have Equalizer slightly lower than $35 million, but as long as it comes in north of $32 million when final numbers are released Monday, it will remain Washington's third-best domestic launch. And Equalizer marks a career best for Fuqua (Training Day debuted to $22.6 million in 2001).

Read more Denzel Washignton and Antoine Fuqua's 'Equalizer': "Like We Never Stopped Working Together"

The Equalizer benefited from playing in Imax theaters and large-format screens, the preferred venue for males. It also features Eminem's new single, "Guts Over Fear," featuring Sia.

The R-rated film stars Washington as McCall, a former member of the special forces who is now leading a quiet life. But when he meets a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) under the control of ultraviolent Russian gangsters, he can't stand idly by and comes out of his self-imposed retirement to do battle on the streets of Boston.

Read more Chloe Grace Moretz: 'It Would Be Great' to See a Strong Female Superhero

Sony's marketing chief Dwight Caines waged an aggressive digital effort for Equalizer, as well as holding tastemaker screenings in 15 major cities with the help of sports stars such as Michael Strahan, Dwight Howard and Tiger Woods, as well as NFL teams the Chicago Bears and the San Francisco 49ers.

Equalizer took a big bite out of Liam Neeson's action movie A Walk Among the Tombstones, which tumbled 67 percent in its second weekend to $4.1 million for a domestic total of $20.9 million. The movie placed No. 7.

Focus Features' 3D family offering The Boxtrolls was the weekend's other new nationwide entry, earning a hearty $17.3 million, the best showing for Oregon-based animation house Laika, not accounting fro inflation. Its two previous releases, which also went through Focus, were Coraline ($16.8 million) and ParaNorman ($14.1 million).

Internationally, where it rolled out early in several countries, Boxtrolls earned another $5.1 million from 16 markets for a foreign total of $17.7 million and early worldwide cume of $35 million.

Boxtrolls, earning a B+ CinemaScore, narrowly lost the No. 2 spot at the North American box office to holdover The Maze Runner, which earned $17.5 million in its second weekend for a pleasing domestic total of $58 million (its foreign total is $91 million).

Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable, Boxtrolls' star-studded voice cast includes Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan and Simon Pegg.

Boxtrolls features a boy named Eggs, who has been raised by a community of quirky, mischievous creatures living in a cavernous home beneath the streets of Cheesebridge. When the town's villain, Archibald Snatcher, comes up with a plot to get rid of the Boxtrolls, Eggs decides to venture aboveground to save the day.

Shawn Levy's adult-skewing dramedy This Is Where I Leave You came in No. 4 in its second weekend, falling 39 percent to $7 million from 2,868 theaters for a total $22.6 million. Fellow Warner Bros. release Dolphin Tale 2 took the No. 5 spot in its third weekend with an estimated $4.8 million from 3,376 locations for a total of $33.7 million.

Here are the estimated top 10 films for the weekend of Sept. 26-28 at the domestic box office:

Title, Weeks in Release/Theater Count, Studio, Weekend Total, Percentage Change, Cume

1. The Equalizer, 1/3,236, Sony/Village Roadshow, $35 million

2. The Maze Runner, 2/3,638, Fox, $17.5 million, -46%, $58 million

3. The Boxtrolls, 1/3464, Focus Features, $17.3 million

4. This Is Where I Leave You, 2/2,868, Warner Bros., $7 million, -39%, $22.6 million

5. Dolphin Tale 2, 3/3,376, Warner Bros./Alcon, $4.8 million, -45%, $33.7 million

6. No Good Deed, 3/2,130, Sony/Screem Gems, $4.6 million, -53%, $46.6 million

7. A Walk Among the Tombstones, 2/2,714, Universal/Cross Creek, $4.2 million, -67%, $20.9 million

8. Guardians of the Galaxy, 9/2,451, Disney/Marvel, $3.8 million, -28%, $319.2 million

9. Let's Be Cops, 7/1,534, 20th Century Fox, $1.5 million, -44%, $79.6 million

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 7/1,585, Paramount, $1.45 million, -45%, $187.2 million

Twitter: @PamelaDayM

Sept. 28, 9:45 a.m. Updated with international numbers