LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Prolific filmmaker Tyler Perry, whose comedies are a big hit with black women, scored the biggest opening of his career on Sunday as "Madea Goes to Jail" sold $41.1 million worth of tickets at the weekend box office in North America.
The film -- based on the actor-director-producer's most successful play -- arrested his usual fan base but also saw a huge boost among Hispanics and younger moviegoers, said its distributor Lionsgate. Perry remains a cult item among whites.
Perry, 39, dons drag to play Madea, a tough-talking, pistol-packing granny who is featured in many of his films and plays. His previous best opening was for his second film, "Madea's Family Reunion," which started with $30 million in 2006. Four of Perry's seven films have made their debut at No. 1.
Additionally, "Madea Goes to Jail" ranks as the best opening for any Lionsgate release -- surpassing the $33.6 million debut for "Saw III" -- and as the fifth-biggest bow for any film in February, said the Lions Gate Entertainment Corp unit.
Women accounted for 71 percent of the audience and blacks 72 percent -- typical for Perry releases. But the percentage of patrons aged under 25 doubled to 35 percent from the turnout last September for his previous film "The Family That Preys." The Hispanic contribution jumped to 13 percent from 5 percent, while the white audience was steady at 6 percent.
There was little change in the upper box office rankings amid a dearth of new releases and little public support for the films competing at the Academy Awards later on Sunday.
The Liam Neeson kidnap thriller "Taken," a former chart-topper, rebounded one place to No. 2 with $11.4 million in its fourth weekend. The total for the 20th Century Fox release rose to $95.1 million.
Focus Features' stop-motion cartoon "Coraline" jumped two to No. 3 with $11 million in its third week, taking its total to $53.4 million. The Warner Bros. romantic comedy "He's Just Not That Into You," the box office leader two weeks ago, fell two spots to No. 4 with $8.5 million while pushing its total to $70.1 million.
Oscar front-runner "Slumdog Millionaire" jumped four places to No. 5, matching its previous high, after earning $8.1 million. The Mumbai-set drama has won most of the key awards in the lead-up to the Oscars, where it has 10 nominations in nine categories. To date, the Fox Searchlight release has earned $98 million, and has spent nine of its 15 weeks in the top 10.
Its rivals for best picture either ran out of steam, like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" ($124 million), or never really got out of the starting blocks, like "Milk" ($28.2 million), "The Reader" ($23.2 million) and "Frost/Nixon" ($17.4 million).
Last weekend's champion, a remake of "Friday the 13th," tumbled to No. 6 with $7.8 million. The 10-day total for the Warner Bros. horror stands at $55 million.
The top 10 contained one other new release, the college comedy "Fired Up," which failed to ignite much interest. The low-budget Screen Gems release was No. 9 with $6 million.
Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are units of News Corp. Focus Features is a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal. Warner Bros is a unit of Time Warner Inc and Screen Gems is a unit of Sony Corp.
Editing by Bill Trott