Opener Chronicle scores an estimated $22m in North America as top two impress.

Fox’s found footage thriller Chronicle took an estimated $22m on its first weekend to narrowly edge out CBS’ UK chiller The Woman In Black on $21m - the biggest ever debut for a Hammer film in the US.

Nigel Sinclair, CEO of Exclusive Media, the parent company of Woman in Black producers Hammer, said: “We are delighted that The Woman In Black has performed so well. The fact that a gothic horror has attracted such a large audience on opening weekend shows the demand for elevated and intelligent genre films which Hammer aims to produce. This follows on a strong performance for Ides Of March and reflects our commitment to great artists and great movies; I congratulate our partners CBS Alliance and of course Cross Creek Pictures.”

Open Road Film’s Liam Neeson holdover The Grey slipped to third in its second week, falling 40%, but still grossed $9.5m for $34.7 million.

Universal and Working Title Films’ newcomer Big Miracle, the weekend’s third debut, opened in fourth on $8.5 million.

Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants beat out Warner Bros.’ Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in the battle of the Best Picture Oscar contenders, grossing a healthy $4.6 million in its 12th weekend for a cume of $65.2 million. Extremely Loud placed in tenth grossing $3.9 million for $26.8 million.

TWC awards favourite The Artist charted 12th on $2.6m for $20.6m while the company’s release of W.E opened in only four locations for $45,000 a location average of $11,250.

Estimated Top 10 North America Feb 3-5 2012 Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (-) Chronicle (Fox) $22 milion

2 (-) The Woman in Black (CBS Films) $21 million

3 (1) The Grey (Open Road Films) $9.5 million $34.7 million

4 (-) Big Miracle (Universal) $8.5 million

5  (2) Underworld: Awakening, (Sony) $5.6 million, $54.4 million

6 (3) One for the Money (Lionsgate) $5.3 million $19.7 million

7 (4) Red Tails (Fox) $5 million $41.3 million

8 (8) The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) $4.6 million $65.2 million

9 (5) Man on a Ledge (Summit) $4.5 million $14.7 million

10 (6) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.) $3.9 million $26.8million