Sony's comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop starring Kevin James in his first solo lead role shunted Warner Bros' Gran Torino into second place as it stormed to the top on an impressive $33.8m estimated launch.

The PG-rated comedy is expected to reach $40m by the end of the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend and far exceeded projections according to Sony chiefs, who predicted it might open in the region of $25m over the four-day holiday.

Gran Torino slipped a mere 23% in its second wide weekend on $22.2m for $73.2m and is well on its way to becoming Clint Eastwood's biggest domestic release.

Launching in third place on a redoubtable $21.9m was Lionsgate's horror film My Bloody Valentine 3-D while Fox Searchlight's Notorious B.I.G. rapper biopic Notorious starring Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke and Angela Bassett opened in fourth on $21.5m. Opening in fifth on $17.7m was DreamWorks-Paramount's family title Hotel For Dogs starring Emma Roberts.

Meanwhile Paramount Vantage's wartime Resistance tale Defiance starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber vaulted 27 places to number eight on $9.2m and has grossed an early $9.5m.

Fox Searchlight's Slumdog Millionaire capitalised on its four Golden Globe awards last weekend as it entered the top ten on $5.9m from a limited 582 screens to stand at $42.7m.

In its fourth weekend two major releases crossed $100m. Paramount's drama The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button in 11th place added $5.6m for $102.6m while Buena Vista's family release Bedtime Stories in 12th place raised its tally by $4.8m to $103.8m.

Next weekend's wide releases are: Sony's Underworld 3: Rise Of The Lycans starring Rhona Mitra, Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy; and Warner Bros' fantasy adventure Inkheart with Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany and Helen Mirren.

Estimated Top 10 North America Jan 16-18, 2009
Film (Dist)/Int'l dist/Est wkd gross/Est total to date

1 (-) Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) SPRI $33.8m -
2 (1) Gran Torino (Warner Bros) WBPI/Village Roadshow $22.2m $73.2m
3 (-) My Bloody Valentine 3-D (Lionsgate) Mandate Int'l $21.9m -
4 (-) Notorious (Fox Searchlight) Fox Int'l $21.5m -
5 (-) Hotel For Dogs (DreamWorks-Paramount) PPI $17.7m -
6 (2) Bride Wars (Fox) Fox Int'l $11.8m $37.6m
7 (3) The Unborn (Universal) UPI $9.8m $33.1m
8 (35) Defiance (Paramount Vantage) Essential Entertainment $9.2m $9.5m
9 (4) Marley & Me (Fox) Fox Int'l $6.3m $132.7m
10 (11) Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) Fox Int'l $5.9m $42.7m