Warner Bros' awards contender Gran Torino directed by and starring Clint Eastwood expanded wide and stormed to the top on an estimated $29m that set a new opening weekend record for Eastwood and raised prospects of it becoming his biggest domestic hit.
After a sensational limited run, the drama replicated its form on a wider platform and has now amassed $40.1m from just five weekends.
Eastwood's biggest previous opening result in North America was $18m from the 2000 release Space Cowboys, which remains his highest grossing domestic release on $90.5m.
The film has been largely ignored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who hand out their Golden Globes tonight, but it is a robust Oscar contender heading into the week when the final ballots are due from Academy Award members.
Fox's comedy Bride Wars starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway had to settle for the silver medal on $21.5m in second place, a decent result that continues the studio's excellent recent form.
Its previous champion, Marley & Me, fell three places to number four after a two-week reign at the top on $11.4m for a mighty $123.7m.
Rogue title The Unborn opened in third place on a solid $21.1m. The
horror film was released through Universal but the Rogue label is now
owned by Relativity Media.
Released through Paramount in North America, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is surging towards $100m. The Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett drama has surpassed commercial expectations and ranks fifth
on $9.5m for $94.3m.
Opening in ninth place on $5.6m through Screen Gems on just 724 sites
was the drama Not Easily Broken starring Morris Chestnut and Taraji P
Henson, who also stars in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.
Frost/Nixon remains in limited release and to date has grossed $7.7m
and ranks 20th after six weekends.
Next weekend's wide releases are: Lionsgate's horror release My Bloody
Valentine 3-D starring Jamie King; the wide expansion of Overture's
romance Last Chance Harvey with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson; Paramount-DreamWorks' comedy Hotel For Dogs starring Emma Roberts' the wide expansion of Paramount Vantage's wartime thriller Defiance with Daniel Craig and Live Schreiber' and Sony's comedy Mall Cop with Kevin James.