LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The low-budget monster movie "Cloverfield" destroyed the competition, including fellow rookie "27 Dresses," during its first day of release in North American theaters, according to preliminary sales estimates issued on Saturday.
"Cloverfield" earned $16.75 million on Friday, while the romantic comedy "27 Dresses" opened to $7.7 million, said their respective distributors, Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox.
Industry observers had expected a tight race between the films, with male youngsters rushing to see New York get wiped out in "Cloverfield" and women lining up to follow Katherine Heigl's romantic travails in "27 Dresses."
Paramount had tried to downplay expectations for "Cloverfield" by sending out word earlier in the week that "27 Dresses" would likely open slightly higher.
Now, "Cloverfield" is on track to set a record for the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. A Paramount spokesman said on Saturday that the studio expects the film to earn $46.75 million for the four-day period -- double its earlier forecast. The current holiday record-holder is "Black Hawk Down" with four-day sales of $33.6 million in 2002.
With a budget of only $25 million, "Cloverfield" will prove a vital money-spinner for Paramount, which has been undergoing a restructuring since former talent manager Brad Grey took over Viacom Inc's moribund studio in March 2005. Much of Paramount's business last year was with pictures inherited from its 2006 purchase of DreamWorks.
Twentieth Century Fox, a unit of News Corp, declined to predict a weekend figure for "27 Dresses" until more data come in on Sunday morning.
Last weekend's champion, Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Bucket List," fell to No. 3 with $4.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo, which analyzes ticket sales data. Fox Searchlight Pictures' "Juno" slipped one to No. 4 with $3.1 million, and Overture Films' debut release, the heist comedy "Mad Money," opened at No. 5 with a modest $2.3 million.
Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner Inc. Fox Searchlight is also a unit of News Corp. Overture is a unit of Liberty Media Corp.'s cable TV channel Starz LLC.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Vicki Allen