LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kevin James, the star of the sitcom "The King of Queens," is now the king of the North American box office, thanks to a surprisingly strong No. 1 opening for his feature headlining debut.
His family comedy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" sold an estimated $33.8 million worth of tickets during the three days beginning January 16, distributor Columbia Pictures said on Sunday, helping boost overall ticket sales for a fourth consecutive weekend.
James plays a shopping-mall security guard who takes on a gang of high-tech thieves. He also co-wrote and co-produced the $26 million movie, which was roundly trashed by critics.
Last weekend's champ, Clint Eastwood's suburban drama "Gran Torino" slipped to No. 2 with $22.2 million, taking its total to $73.2 million. Distributor Warner Bros. Pictures expects the film to end up in the $130 million range.
Three new releases rounded out the top five, all with strong numbers: the horror film "My Bloody Valentine: 3D" at No. 3 with $21.9 million; "Notorious," a biopic about slain rapper Notorious B.I.G. at No. 4 with $21.5 million, and the kids comedy "Hotel for Dogs" at No. 5 with $17.7 million.
The top-10 boasted one other new entry, as well as a re-entry. After two weeks in limited release, James Bond star Daniel Craig's Nazi-resistance movie "Defiance" landed at No. 8 with a solid $9.2 million.
Awards favorite "Slumdog Millionaire" rebounded one place to No. 10 with $6.3 million, taking its total to $42.7 million. The Mumbai-set drama won four prizes at the Golden Globes last Sunday, and is expected to be a key contender when Oscar nominations are unveiled on Thursday.
With a slew of fresh movies catering to most demographics, and with the U.S. observing the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, business was brisk. Total sales stood at $197 million, up 28 percent from the year-ago period, said tracking firm Media By Numbers.
Columbia, a unit of Sony Corp, predicted the total for "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" would rise to $40 million once sales for the Monday holiday were included. Going into the weekend, it had been hoping for a respectable four-day sum of $25 million.
"We knew it was going to do well," said Rory Bruer, Columbia's president of worldwide distribution. "Audiences just love Kevin James. He's like the everyman you want to have a beer with."
James, 43, is best known for his role as a portly delivery man in "The King of Queens," which now airs in syndication after wrapping a nine-year stint on CBS in 2007.
In his previous features, he played second fiddle to the likes of Will Smith ("Hitch") and Adam Sandler ("I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"). Sandler's Happy Madison production company produced "Paul Blart." Steve Carr ("Daddy Day Care") directed.
Warner Bros is a unit of Time Warner Inc. "My Bloody Valentine: 3D" was released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. "Notorious" and "Slumdog Millionaire" were released by Fox Searchlight, a unit of News Corp. "Hotel for Dogs" was released by Paramount Pictures and "Defiance" by Paramount Vantage. Both are units of Viacom Inc.
Editing by David Wiessler