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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Roommate," a low-budget thriller that received a unanimous thumbs-down from top critics, opened in the top spot at the weekend box office in North America, as the studios braced for the annual sales hit from Sunday's Super Bowl.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "The Roommate" earned about $15.6 million in its first three days, equivalent to its production budget and in line with expectations.
"Sanctum," a 3-D underwater adventure produced by James Cameron, followed at a distant No. 2 with $9.2 million.
Last weekend's champion, the Anthony Hopkins thriller "The Rite," tumbled to No. 6 with $5.6 million.
The top five was rounded out by the Natalie Portman romantic comedy "No Strings Attached," down one at No. 3 with $8.4 million; Oscars front-runner "The King's Speech," up one to No. 4 with $8.3 million; and the superhero adaptation "The Green Hornet," down one at No. 5 with $6.1 million.
"The Roommate" stars "Gossip Girl" actress Leighton Meester as an unhinged college student in a story reminiscent of the 1992 thriller "Single White Female." Released by Sony Corp's genre arm Screen Gems, "Roommate" was panned by all the top critics surveyed on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that aggregates reviews.
Women under the age of 21 accounted for about two-thirds of the audience, the studio said. This demographic is the least likely to be watching the Super Bowl, the year's biggest television event in the United States.
Overall sales tumbled, reflecting both the studios' annual capitulation to the Super Bowl and a recent paucity of hits. The top 12 films grossed $75 million, down 18 percent from last weekend, and down 24 percent from the year-ago period, according to box office analysts at Hollywood.com.
"Sanctum" was released by Universal Pictures, which is 51 percent-owned by Comcast Corp. "No Strings Attached" was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. "The King's Speech" was released by the Weinstein Co, which is privately held. "The Rite" was released by Warner Bros Pictures, a unit of Time Warner Inc.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bill Trott