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.