"Joker" made a rare return to the top spot in North American theaters, outdrawing three new releases that struggled to gain traction in a sluggish stretch for movies.

The Warner Bros. film about the DC Comics super villain took in $18.9 million in weekend sales, researcher Comscore Inc. estimated Sunday. It's the top grossing R-rated movie of all time globally after four weeks and toppled last week's leader Walt Disney Co.'s "Maleficent."

None of the three new releases were projected to challenge for the lead. The horror film "Countdown" from STX Entertainment was expected to take in $8 million, and it took in $9 million. Sony Corp.'s action film "Black and Blue" was forecast to produce between $6 million and $7.2 million, and it brought in $8.3 million. "The Current War: Director's Cut," a 101 Studios film about the birth of electricity, was estimated at $2.8 million to $3.9 million. It came in at $2.7 million.

Ticket sales aren't keeping pace with a year ago. Box Office Pro had projected revenue from this weekend's top 10 films would be little changed from the same weekend a year earlier.

Hollywood and theater operators need a 17% leap in ticket revenue this quarter just to finish 2019 in line with last year, a gap that may be too wide to close, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

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