Studio estimates Sunday put two movies in a tie for first-place with $13 million each: Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena's police story "End of Watch" and Jennifer Lawrence's horror flick "House at the End of the Street."
And right in the same ballpark was Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams' baseball tale "Trouble with the Curve," which opened with $12.7 million.
Actual rankings will be determined Monday as studios release final numbers for the weekend.
No matter which movie comes out on top, it was another slow weekend for Hollywood, whose business has been sluggish throughout late summer. Revenues were down for the fourth-straight weekend, with all three of the top new movies opening to modest crowds.
"This was a clash of the non-titans," said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "When three films are duking it out for the top spot with only around $13 million, that doesn't represent a very strong period at the box office."
Overall domestic revenues totaled $88 million, down 25 percent from the same weekend last year, when a 3-D re-release of "The Lion King" led with $21.9 million, according to Hollywood.com.
The weekend's other new wide release, Lionsgate's sci-fi action tale "Dredd," opened well down in the rankings at No. 6 with $6.3 million. The movie features "Star Trek" co-star Karl Urban as a law enforcer and executioner in a crime-laden city of the future.
Open Road Films' "End of Watch" stars Gyllenhaal and Pena as partners patrolling the mean streets of LA. Relativity Media's "House at the End of the Street" casts "The Hunger Games" star Lawrence as a youth who moves with her mom next door to a house where bloody misdeeds took place years earlier. "Trouble with the Curve," released by Warner Bros., stars Eastwood as an aging baseball scout whose daughter (Adams) accompanies him on his latest road trip.
Studios determine weekend estimates by counting Friday and Saturday ticket sales then projecting Sunday revenues based on how similar movies have played out in the past. On rare occasions when the top movies are this close, the rankings sometimes change when Monday's final numbers are released.
That has led to grousing among competitors that some studios might be inflating their Sunday estimates to gain No. 1 bragging rights, even if only for a day.
"I took the high road myself and put down the $12.7 million we reported," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros., where Eastwood has been based for decades. "I've got a major actor with a solid group of people in this movie, and I don't want to eat crow on Monday."
Other studios were tracking "End of Watch" and "House at the End of the Street" at a bit less than $13 million for the weekend, and some had "Trouble with the Curve" at No. 1 by a fraction.
"It's unbelievably close. I honestly don't remember ever seeing it this close, but we're happy that we're in the race," said Kyle Davies, head of distribution for Relativity. "We think our estimate is on target."
"We'll see tomorrow. I think today everybody projected honorably and honestly," said Tom Ortenberg, chief executive officer for Open Road Films. "I think it's fair to say that nobody's sure who's going to be No. 1."
While audiences were not too excited about the new wide releases, Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment banner had big crowds in limited release for its teen drama "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."
The film took in $244,000 in four locations for a strong average of $61,000 a theater. That compares to meager averages ranging from $3,960 to $4,762 a theater for "Trouble with the Curve," ''House at the End of the Street" and "End of Watch," which all played in about 3,000 cinemas.
"Perks" features "Harry Potter" co-star Emma Watson alongside Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller in the story of a troubled high school freshman taken in by a clique of senior misfits.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1 (tie). "End of Watch," $13 million.
1 (tie). "House at the End of the Street," $13 million ($1.5 million international).
3. "Trouble with the Curve," $12.7 million.
4. "Finding Nemo," $9.4 million ($1.3 million international).
5. "Resident Evil: Retribution," $6.7 million ($30.5 million international).
6. "Dredd," $6.3 million ($2.2 million international).
7. "The Master," $5 million.
8. "The Possession," $2.6 million ($1.5 million international).
9. "Lawless," $2.32 million ($1.5 million international).
10. "ParaNorman," $2.3 million ($3 million international).
Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:
1. "Resident Evil: Retribution," $30.5 million.
2. "Ted," $9.3 million.
3. "Masquerade," $9 million.
4. "The Bourne Legacy," $8.8 million.
5. "Brave," $5.7 million.
6. "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," $4.6 million.
7. "Prometheus," $4.1 million.
8. "The Expendables 2," $4 million.
9. "The Dark Knight Rises," $3.8 million.
10. "ParaNorman," $3 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.