It took a Nicholas Sparks adaptation starring Channing Tatum to finally knock Avatar from the perch it held for seven weeks. Dear John grossed an estimated $32.4 million to Avatar's $23.6 -- but Sparks/Tatum is such a potent combination that I wonder if the movie wouldn't have done non-trivially better had it not opened against the Superbowl. As it stands, it still has by far the best opening weekend for a Nicholas Sparks flick, though it's not clear what kind of legs it's going to have -- it will get some stiff competition from Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day next weekend.

As for Avatar, I went for a second viewing on Friday -- more out of a desire to see it in (real) IMAX than out of any abiding love for the film. Before the movie began, someone took an impromptu poll of the sold-out crowd to find out how many had already seen it -- and I saw, oh, thirty or forty hands go up. Presumably, most if not all of them brought friends. As with Titanic, there's where a good part of those record-breaking grosses comes from. Avatar is merrily marching toward an astronomical $700 million. Saints preserve us, etc.

From Paris with Love opened in third place with a weak $8.1 million, and is a mulligan for Fox, Luc Besson and Pierre Morel. Their Taken was a surprise hit in early 2009, but I guess the novelty value of seeing Liam Neeson as a badass secret agent dominates the novelty value of seeing John Travolta as same. (Taken's elegant, simple storyline hook probably played a part too, especially as compared to the incomprehensible jumble that is From Paris with Love.)

More, and the top 10, after the jump.

Mel Gibson's Edge of Darkness took a steep tumble, ensuring that Mel Gibson won't be putting it on his comeback resume (though he's quite good in it). I guess the interest in this minor-key, blandly marketed crime tale wasn't there. Nor was there much interest in Adam Green's Frozen, which got no traction in the few markets it opened. It wound up with roughly $1200 per screen on 100 screens.

1 - Dear John (Sony) - $32.40 ($10,913) - $32.40
2 - Avatar (Fox) - $23.60 ($7,867) - $630.09
3 - From Paris with Love (Fox) - $8.12 ($2,983) - $8.12
4 - Edge of Darkness (Warner Bros.) - $7.01 ($2,285) - $29.10
5 - The Tooth Fairy (Fox) - $6.50 ($2,020) - $34.33
6 - When in Rome (Disney) - $5.50 ($2,241) - $20.90
7 - The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.) - $4.84 ($1,715) - $82.16
8 - Crazy Heart (Fox Searchlight) - $3.65 ($4,457) - $11.19
9 - Legion (Screen Gems) - $3.40 ($1,454) - $34.68
10 - Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.) - $2.63 ($1,457) - $201.58

Next week: Valentine's Day, the kiddie fantasy Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and the adult fantasy The Wolfman.