If you could tap into all your unused brain power, like Bradley Cooper does in 'Limitless,' maybe you could have predicted who would win the box office crown during this tricky weekend. Virtually no one predicted that Cooper's pharmaceutical thriller would come out on top, but in fact, 'Limitless' debuted at No. 1, beating the expected winner (last week's topper, 'Battle: Los Angeles') and two other new releases.

After 'Battle: Los Angeles' (and perhaps 'Rango'), the three newcomers ('Limitless,' 'The Lincoln Lawyer,' and 'Paul') were expected to compete in a tight race, each opening with 2,700–2,800 playdates and projected sales of $11 to $16 million. But 'Limitless' pulled ahead of the others with an estimated opening of $19.0 million, thanks largely to positive reviews and broad appeal. (Distributor Relativity said 60 percent of the audience was over 25 and that viewers were about evenly split between men and women.) Sci-fi genre competition from fellow newcomer 'Paul' and holdovers 'Battle: Los Angeles' and 'The Adjustment Bureau' didn't seem to have much impact.
'Rango' was second, holding up well in its third week with an estimated take of $15.3 million, down just 32 percent from last week. Without having to face any serious competition for the family audience this week, the cartoon talking-animal western brought its total earnings to $92.6 million. It should cross $100 million later this week.

'Battle' fell to third place with an estimated $14.6 million, down 59 percent from last weekend's debut. Apparently, most of the viewers who were interested in the alien-invasion action movie had already seen it the first weekend, with few of those viewers recommending it to others. The movie's 10-day total stands at $60.6 million; a $100 million take is probably not in the cards.

The Lincoln Lawyer

'The Lincoln Lawyer' had a solid fourth-place premiere with an estimated $13.4 million. The Matthew McConaughey vehicle was the best-reviewed film of the three newcomers, and it also benefited from a special discount ticket program involving Groupon and Fandango that resulted in pre-sales of 200,000 tickets. The courtroom drama played especially well with older audiences; distributor Lionsgate reported that 85 percent of the viewers were over 25.

'Paul' also did surprisingly well among older audiences, debuting at No. 5 with an estimated $13.2 million. The stranded-alien comedy had obvious appeal for the fanboy crowd, but it also drew an audience made up primarily of viewers over 25 (58 percent, according to distributor Universal). The movie had already earned $41.3 million overseas, but that $13.2 million represents the best U.S. opening ever for the British comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of 'Shaun of the Dead' fame.

'Limitless' Trailer

The full top 10:
1. 'Limitless,' $19.0 million (2,756 screens), new release
2. 'Rango,' $15.3 million (3,843), $92.6 million total
3. 'Battle: Los Angeles,' $14.6 million (3,417), $60.6 million
4. 'The Lincoln Lawyer,' $13.4 million (2,707), new release
5. 'Paul,' $13.2 million (2,802), new release
6. 'Red Riding Hood,' $7.3 million (3,030), $26.0 million
7. 'The Adjustment Bureau,' $5.9 million (2,660), $48.8 million
8. 'Mars Needs Moms,' $5.3 million (3,117), $15.4 million
9. 'Beastly,' $3.3 million (1,810), $22.2 million
10. 'Hall Pass,' $2.6 million (1,905), $39.6 million

Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.
Based on 37 critics

Two British sci-fi nerds (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost) help an alien return to his spaceship. Read More

The Lincoln Lawyer
Based on 31 critics

An unorthodox defense attorney takes the case of a playboy accused of attempted murder. Read More