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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Cloverfield," a low-budget Godzilla-style horror movie, scared up a monstrous $41 million opening at the weekend box office in North America, almost twice the tally of the new romance "27 Dresses."
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "27 Dresses" opened at No. 2 with $22.4 million, while last weekend's champ "The Bucket List" fell to No. 3 with almost $15.2 million. The top-10 contained one other new release, "Mad Money," which opened at No. 7 with just $7.7 million.
"Cloverfield," a $25 million movie with a no-name cast from Paramount Pictures, set a record for a January release, surpassing the $35.9 million reissue of "Star Wars" in 1997.
It will also set a record for the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. "Black Hawk Down" earned $33.6 million during the four-day period in 2002. Paramount said its movie will earn more than $47 million after the Monday holiday is included.
Box office observers had expected "Cloverfield" to open in the $20 million range for the three-day period, a little ahead of "27 Dresses." They largely discounted Paramount's unusual forecast last week that the order would be reversed.
While the two movies appeared to target completely different audiences delineated by gender, the positively-reviewed "Cloverfield" played more broadly than expected.
Paramount said men comprised 60 percent of the audience, and 55 percent of moviegoers were aged under 25. The audience for "27 Dresses" was three-quarters female, Fox said.
"Cloverfield" marks a reunion between director Matt Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams, the creators of the cult TV show "Felicity." Seen exclusively through the lens of a camcorder, it follows a group of youngsters on the run from a monster rampaging across New York. Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc, employed a word-of-mouth marketing campaign for the film, highlighting the image of a beheaded Statue of Liberty.
Fox spent the previous two weekends holding sneak previews of "27 Dresses," which stars "Grey's Anatomy" actress Katherine Heigl as a perennial bridesmaid. The News Corp-owned studio said the opening was "fantastic." The film held at No. 1 in Australia for a second week, it added.
Critics ripped both "27 Dresses" and "Mad Money," which also targets female moviegoers.
"Mad Money" stars Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes as masterminds of an unlikely bank heist. It marks the debut release of Overture Films, a unit of Liberty Media Corp.'s cable TV operator Starz LLC. Overture said the movie would be profitable, especially after DVD sales are factored in.
Elsewhere, the total for Warner Bros. Pictures' comedy "The Bucket List," starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, rose to $42.7 million.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' teen-pregnancy comedy "Juno" slipped one to No. 4 with $10.3 million, taking its total to $85.4 million. The film began its international campaign in Australia, opening at No. 5, the studio said.
"National Treasure: Book of Secrets" fell one to No. 5 with $8.1 million. Walt Disney Co's Nicolas Cage adventure movie has earned $198 million to date.
Woody Allen's thriller "Cassandra's Dream" opened poorly in limited release, earning $400,000 from 107 theaters. It was distributed by the Weinstein Co, which is run by Miramax Films founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Vicki Allen