"The Devil Inside," a low-budget horror film with no recognizable stars, roared past its most optimistic box-office projections, taking in $34.5 million in its opening weekend.
The movie, which Paramount Insurge acquired for $1 million, is now the third-biggest January opening ever — behind "Cloverfield" and the "Star Wars" re-release.
Its success helped put the overall box office 28 percent ahead of where it was during the same weekend in 2011.
And it gives Paramount the No. 1, 2 and 8 movies at the box office. "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," which took $20.5 million over the weekend, is No. 2 and "The Adventures of Tintin," which grossed $6.6 million, is No. 8.
Also of note this weekend, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," a specialty film playing in only 809 locations, cracked the top 10 — and the $10 million mark — at the box office. The Focus Features film grossed $5.8 million this weekend, putting it just behind "Tintin" and just ahead of "New Year's Eve."
Also read: Review: Ice-Cold 'Tinker Tailor' Burns Hot
The biggest winner of the weekend, though, is the R-rated "Devil."
Not only did it beat expectations — Paramount estimated it would take $8 million for the entire weekend, and rival-studio expectations had it grossing up to $19 million — it defied critics.
Its Rotten Tomatoes score was a terrible 7 percent.
Worse, the audience research firm Cinemascore gave the movie an unheard of "F."
That didn't frighten audiences. At midnight screenings, the movie grossed $2 million. On Friday, it nearly $17 million.
Being the only new movie in wide release certainly helped, Don Harris, Paramount's head of distribution, told TheWrap Sunday morning.
He said that originally, another studio planned to open a film this weekend, but changed plans.
"When we saw that date became available … we jumped on it," he said.
Harris said that the first weekend in January traditionally sees non-family movies performing well.
"It's always been a good weekend to open up a genre movie — whether it's a Cheech and Chong movie or a 'Saw' movie," he said.
The movie, written and directed by William Brent Bell and written and produced by Matthew Peterman, is as notable for its strong audience reactions as for its box-office success.
There were reports of booing at sneak-previews.
Paramount acknowledges that the movie is "polarizing." The studio notes that while 19 percent of viewers gave "Devil" an "F" Cinemascore, 16 percent gave it an "A."
Also read: Horror Movies Hit the Dead Zone This Summer
The other top movies continued strong performances.
Second-place "Mission: Impossible 4" is expected to break the $170 million mark domestically this weekend, putting it $35 million ahead of the most recent "Mission: Impossible" movie.
And No. 3 "Sherlock Holmes" had a drop of 33 percent compared to last weekend's holiday total. The movie is expected to take in a total of $157.4 by the end of this weekend. Warner Bros. anticipates the movie will ultimately gross between $185 million and $190 million domestically.
Figures provided by Rentrak show that six of the movies now in the domestic top 10 have grossed more than $100 million worldwide: "M:I:4" has taken $458.1 million, "Sherlock Holmes" has grossed $334.6 million, "The Adventures of Tintin" has taken $333.7 million, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" has $240 million, "New Year's Eve" has $132 million and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" has grossed $106.1 million.
Here are the weekend's top 10 movies (in millions)
"The Devil Inside" ($34.5)
"Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" ($20.5)
"Sherlock Holmes — A Game of Shadows" ($14)
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" ($11.3)
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" ($9.5)
"War Horse" ($8.6)
"We Bought a Zoo" ($8.5)
"The Adventures of Tintin" ($6.6)
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" ($5.8)
"New Year's Eve" ($3.3)