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How "Gone Girl" Rehabilitated Ben Affleck's Acting Career

The adaptation of the best-selling novel has used Affleck's tabloid-tarnished past to great effect — and an estimated $38 million debut.

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With an estimated $38 million domestic opening weekend, Gone Girl is proving itself to be just as much of a sensation as the best-selling novel on which it is based — especially for those involved in making it.

It is a career-best debut for director David Fincher, who has not had an outright hit like this since 2002's Panic Room. (When adjusting for ticket price inflation, in fact, Panic Room and Fincher's feature directing debut, 1992's Alien 3, opened slightly better.) It's co-star Rosamund Pike's best opening weekend since her feature debut in the 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day. Neil Patrick Harris hasn't had a movie open this well since 1997's Starship Troopers, and that is only when adjusting for inflation. Even Tyler Perry has rarely seen a box office this high — only his 2009 film Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail has done better. (OK, and 2009's Star Trek, but Perry only had a brief cameo.)

Gone Girl's box office success perhaps means the most, however, for Ben Affleck. The 42-year-old actor has been enjoying a career resurgence over the past few years as a director, culminating with his 2012 film Argo winning Best Picture. As an actor for hire, however, Affleck has struggled mightily since the $40.3 million debut of 2003's Daredevil, a career peak that tumbled just six short months later into the tabloid media maelstrom that was Gigli and his relationship with Jennifer Lopez.

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It's taken 11 years for Affleck's career to fully recover. After the 2004 bomb Surviving Christmas, in fact, Affleck wasn't in a lead role in a studio movie until 2009's Russell Crowe thriller State of Play — which also bombed. In fact, since Daredevil, of Affleck's movies that he didn't also direct, only the romantic comedy ensemble He's Just Not That Into You rates as anything close to a hit. Even Affleck's first big film post-Argo, last year's thriller Runner Runner, made less than State of Play.

The timing, then, of Gone Girl's box office success could not be more fortuitous for Affleck, whose next feature film as an actor — as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — is about as high profile as it gets in Hollywood. Had Gone Girl flopped, it would have been an excruciating wait until his March 25, 2016, debut as the Caped Crusader.

Instead, it appears what Affleck needed to exorcise Gigli and all it represents was fully embrace what it did to his career.

In the film, Affleck plays Nick, an unlikable man suspected of a crime he swears he did not commit — murdering his seemingly perfect wife, Amy (Pike). For much of the film, which author-turned-screenwriter Gillian Flynn adapted from her novel, we watch Nick's life crumble around him in a tabloid media maelstrom.

The parallels to Affleck's own life and career are inescapable — Affleck himself has made no secret of how closely Gone Girl touches on his own experience since practically when his career launched with 1997's Good Will Hunting. In short, Affleck has been a guy our culture has loved to build up to tear down. His public persona has been, at best, as a handsome, talented doofus, and, at worst, as an allegedly philandering, potentially balding, inveterate gambler who has coasted on his good looks — a persona, it should be clear, shaped at times by stories of highly dubious provenance. But even Affleck's acceptance speech for Argo's Best Picture Oscar, which should have been a triumphant, validating moment, was picked apart for perceived slights against his wife.

Gone Girl makes great use of this persona — as did 20th Century Fox's marketing department, which leaned heavily on images of Nick being hounded by the press to promote the otherwise spoiler-filled film. The connection to Affleck's persona for some may have been subtle; for others, almost too obvious. But by harkening back to his lowest moments as an actor, Affleck has boosted himself back into being a true box office draw.

Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:

1. Gone Girl* — $38 million

2. Annabelle* — $37.2 million

3. The Equalizer — $19 million

4. The Boxtrolls — $12.4 million

5. The Maze Runner — $12 million

6. Left Behind* — $6.9 million

7. This Is Where I Leave You — $4 million

8. Dolphin Tale 2 — $3.5 million

9. Guardians of the Galaxy — $3 million

10. No Good Deed — $2.5 million

*Opening weekend

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