Warner Bros’ fantasy tale Where The Wild Things Are led the North American box office at the weekend courtesy of an estimated $32.5m launch.

Spike Jonze’s largely admired adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s sparsely worded children’s book had become a drawn-out affair in recent years due to production hurdles and Jonze’s spat with the studio over interpretation.

This opening weekend result may make both sides forget all that – at least for now. With a host of big new releases coming up next weekend including Saw VI and Amelia, Warner Bros executives can hope that Where The Wild Things Are continues to draw family and fantasy audiences.

According to exit polls, 43% of the crowds were aged 18 and above, while parents with children accounted for 27%. The film averaged $8,693 from 3,735 theatres.

Overture Films scored its biggest ever launch as the crime drama Law Abiding Citizen starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx opened in second place on $21.3m. The release exceeded Overture’s expectations and played evenly among male and female audiences.

Paramount’s low-budget sensation Paranormal Activity expanded from 160 to 760 theatres in its fourth weekend and added $20.2m.

The $15,000 genre film stands at $33.7m and is very well positioned heading into Halloween season.

Sony’s horror thriller The Stepfather opened in fifth place on $12.3m. Apparition launched the Sundance hit Black Dynamite on $141,000 from 70 theatres.

Next weekend Fox Searchlight releases Mira Nair’s Amelia Earhart biopic Amelia starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere; Lionsgate unleashes Saw VI; Universal has Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant with John C Reilly; and Summit releases the manga adaptation Astro Boy.

Estimated Top 10 North America October 16-18 2009
Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (-) Where The Wild Things Are(Warner Bros) WBPI $32.5m –

2 (-) Law Abiding Citizen(Overture) The Film Dept $21.3m –

3 (4) Paranormal Activity(Paramount) IM Global $20.2m $33.7m

4 (1) Couples Retreat(Universal) UPI $17.9m $63.3m

5 (-) The Stepfather (Sony) SPRI $12.3m –

6 (3) Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (Sony) SPRI $8.1m $108.3m

7 (2) Zombieland (Sony) SPRI $7.8m $60.8m

8 (5) Toy Story / Toy Story 2 (3D)(Buena Vista) WDSMPI $3m $28.6m

9 (6) Surrogates (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $1.9m $36.3m

10 (7) The Invention Of Lying(Warner Bros/MRC) UPI $1.9m $15.5m