The Universal comedy Couples Retreat gave the studio’s new regime a timely shot in the arm as it soared to the top on an estimated $35.3m over the weekend.

Vince Vaughn, Malin Akerman and Jon Favreau star in the film, whose number one launch will inject urgently needed optimism into Universal despite the generally poor reviews.

The star of the weekend however was undoubtedly Paranormal Activity, Paramount’s ultra low-budget horror film that climbed 15 places to number five and gained 1,228% after grossing a staggering $7.1m from 159 theatres, averaging $44,440.

Buoyed by a canny marketing campaign that has capitalised on feverish online support and good reviews, Paranormal Activity expanded from 33 theatres and stands at $8.3m after only three weekends. IM Global holds international rights.

Elsewhere the usual suspects each moved down a place or two to accommodate Paranormal Activity and Couples Retreat. Sony’s Zombieland ranks second after adding $15m for $47.8m after two weekends, and stablemate Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is poised to cross $100m and stands at $96.3m after four.

Disney’s Toy Story double bill, reformatted to play in 3D, ranks fourth on $22.7m, while Warner Bros’ The Invention Of Lying in seventh fell 52% in its second weekend on $3.4m for $12.3m and Overture’s Capitalism: A Love Story in ninth stands at $9.1m after three.

Roadside Attractions released Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair in 14th place on $1.1m from 186, while further down the rankings SPC opened the Sundance draw An Education on $162,000 from four for an excellent $40,500 average, and The Damned United on $36,800 from six.

Focus Features’ Coen Brothers’ dark comedy A Serious Man took $446,761 from 21 theaters for a very good $21,274 average and has grossed $799,002 after two.

Next weekend Sony releases its horror thriller The Stepfather starring Dylan Walsh, Amber Heard and Penn Badgley; Warner Bros unveils Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic Where The Wild Things Are with Max Records and Catherine Keener; and Overture releases The Film Department’s crime thriller Law Abiding Citizen starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler.

Estimated Top 10 North America October 9-11 2009
Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (-) Couples Retreat (Universal) UPI $35.3m –

2 (1) Zombieland (Sony) SPRI $15m $47.8m

3 (2) Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (Sony) SPRI $12m $96.3m

4 (3) Toy Story / Toy Story 2 (3D) (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $7.7m $22.7m

5 (20) Paranormal Activity (Paramount) IM Global $7.1m $8.3m

6 (4) Surrogates (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $4.1m $32.6m

7 (5) The Invention Of Lying (Warner Bros) UPI $3.4m $12.3m

8 (6) Whip It (Fox Searchlight) Mandate Int’l $2.8m $8.8m

9 (8) Capitalism: A Love Story (Overture) Paramount Vantage Int’l $2.7m $9.1m

10 (7) Fame (MGM) Lakeshore Entertainment $2.6m $20m