"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)