Jennifer Lawrence, House at the End of the St

There's no getting around the truth: business continues to be bad. Although the top ten grossed a bit above last week's mediocre numbers, by this point most year's numbers are recovering with new, stronger releases upgrading performance. But compared to a year ago, grosses are down by a disastrous one third! Last year, three films grossed $5 milliion or more on Friday. This year, none did.

The battle for #1 won't be resolved for sure until Monday, although the full weekend estimates will likely shift the top three. For their modestlevel of expense and ability to grow audiences in upcoming weeks, both "End of Watch" and "Trouble With the Curve"  show promise. But positive studio balance sheets won't make theater owners happy when they see a continuation of several weeks of box office slump that shows signs of getting worse, not better.

1. House at the End of the Street (Relativity) NEW - Cinemascore: B; Metacritic score: 37

$4,640,000 in 3,083 theaters; PSA: $1,505; Cumulative: $4,640,000

For the fourth straight Friday, a horror film led all grosses. "House" however is not likely to make it four straight weekends, since the win was narrow and the two films close on its heels, with adult support, will likely gain over the next two days.

Jennifer Lawrence shot this before getting her best actress nomination for "Winter's Bone" or even "Hunger Games." Relativity paid between $2-3 million for US rights to the $10-million independent production. Marketing costs will be several times that, so any quick gross playoff and brief run would make this an marginal performer despite the decent first day.

What it means: It made sense to delay the film until after "The Hunger Games" made Lawrence a big draw. But coming out as the third horror wide release this month likely tempered interest, more so when the main attraction was the star more than any distinctive story hook.

2. End of Watch (Open Road) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 70

$4,600,000 in 2,730 theaters; PSA: $1,685; Cumulative: $4,600,000

Likely heading to #1 for the weekend, in a bleak month this film is cause for excitement. Opening wide right after its Toronto Film Festival premiere, its genre (police film) and stars (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) didn't immediately suggest the possibility of breakout sucess. Yet this looks like it might not only win the weekend but be set up for a solid lengthy and profitable run.

This is another gold opening for Open Road, a distribution venture created by top exhibitors Regal and AMC to add product (mainly) to fringe periods in the release schedule. Open Road acquired indie-financed "End of Watch" for $2 million plus a guaranteed wide release spend (in-theater support cuts down costs).

Getting a career boost is director David Ayer, who moved from strong scripting credits ("The Fast and the Furious," "Training Day," "SWAT") to directing ("Harsh Times," "Street Kings,"). Not only is this opening above expectations (studios passed on the film before Open Road bought it), the film also scored well with critics, who raved about the performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.

Since "Brokeback Mountain," other than the big budget  "Prince of Persia" ($350 million worldwide), Gyllenhaal's films have grossed between $9 and $54 million in the US/Canada. But all of these cost considerably more than "End of Watch" and reinforced a sense that he had failed to establish himself as an A-lister. This could be a step towards elevating him once again.

What it means: In a period when studios are getting increasingly wary of "risky" non-horror or family-oriented lower-budget dramas, "End of Road" shows that a smart, well-reviewed film can still find a theatrical audience and make profits. And for Open Road, after some success (particularly the equally surprising "The Grey"), their appeal to producers will just get stronger.

3. Trouble With the Curve (Warner Brothers) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic score: 58

$4,165,000 in 3,212 theaters; PSA (per screen average); $1,297; Cumulative: $4,165,000

Though this could still end up #2 or even #1 for the weekend, these are not great grosses for this Clint Eastwood/Amy Adams baseball story. Opening wider than any Clint Eastwood starring film ever, and unlike the previous two ("Gran Torino," "Million Dollar Baby"), opening wide from the start, the PSA is going to fall below at least five of them, even more significant since the most recent was four years ago, the oldest 20, meaning lower ticket prices for the earlier films.

Some caveats though: Eastwood's audience is older, not as inclined to rush out opening weekend, so if this shows strong word-of-mouth, its legs and length of run could be better than most opening films. The reviews were below most Eastwood films (this one was not directedby him), so that may have cut into the initial gross. The critic-influenced audience may have overlapped with those less inclined to go to this after his recent political brouhaha.

And, from a financial perspective, although the production cost for this has not been published, Eastwood's Malpaso is known for making economical films, far below industry average, so that even with marketing costs the domestic box office likely doesn't need to be anything near $100 million to be a success.

What it means: "Moneyball," another baseball-centered film, opened a year ago to an opening weekend of just under $20 on its way to $75 million domestic and $110 million total worldwide (the sport limiting interest in most markets). Based on these early numbers, this likely comes in less. Still, considering its star is 82 years old (has there ever been a wide release with a lead over 80?), other than the high standards of earlier Eastwood films, this is still an impressive take.