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By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Low-budget horror sequel "Insidious: Chapter 2" grabbed moviegoers searching for a Friday the 13th scare, winning the U.S. and Canadian weekend box office race over the Robert De Niro mobster comedy "The Family" and setting a record for a September opening day.
The fright flick about a family haunted by spirits far exceeded forecasts with just over $41 million in ticket sales over its first three days, according to studio estimates on Sunday.
Just over $20 million in sales came on its Friday the 13th release date, marking a new single-day record for September that had been held by "Sweet Home Alabama" with $13.1 million, according to Hollywood.com's box office division.
"The Family" took in $14.5 million to finish the weekend in second place. Last weekend's winner, Vin Diesel sci-fi sequel "Riddick," fell to the No. 3 slot collecting $7 million.
The "Insidious" sequel is the latest film from low-budget horror filmmaker Jason Blum, the producer behind the successful "Paranormal Activity" franchise. The first "Insidious," released in April 2011, opened with $13 million and went on to gross $97 million around the world.
The new film was produced for $5 million and features Patrick Wilson, star of summer horror hit "The Conjuring." Both "Insidious 2" and "The Conjuring" were directed by James Wan.
Jim Orr, president of distribution for FilmDistrict, "Insidious 2's" distributor, said the whopping total far exceeded the studio's expectations of an opening of somewhere in the mid-$20 millions, "so to have numbers like that is just incredible."
Orr noted that the first "Insidious" "generated a lot of goodwill, people really liked it, and this film was seamless with the first." Those factors, not to mention its Friday the 13th release date, helped drive the huge opening, he said.
In the "Insidious" sequel, the haunted Lambert family tries to uncover the childhood secret that has left them connected to spirits.
Box office analysts had projected the film's debut would take in $32 million.
Orr added that the studio was "cautiously optimistic" that the film would enjoy several weeks of good box office, especially given that there were no other horror films slated to open until "Carrie" in mid-October.
"The Family" features De Niro as a mob boss who relocates his family to France under the witness protection program. Michelle Pfeiffer co-stars as his wife. The film was produced for $30 million by director Luc Besson's EuropaCorp and privately held studio Relativity Media.
The film, which the studio said exceeded its expectations for the opening weekend, received a C rating from CinemaScore based on a survey of moviegoers.
"Riddick," starring Diesel as an intergalactic traveler who can see in the dark, has now earned $31.3 million since its release last weekend.
Among the other top movies, civil rights drama "Lee Daniels' The Butler" took the No. 4 spot with $5.6 million, just ahead of the Jennifer Aniston comedy "We're the Millers," which landed in fifth with $5.4 million.
Privately held FilmDistrict released "Insidious: Chapter 2." "The Family" was distributed by privately held Relativity Media. "Riddick" was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp. "We're the Millers" was distributed by Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc. The Weinstein Company released "The Butler."