No one expects much to happen at the box office in February. And that's how we get a surprise smash like "Deadpool."

The saga of the pan-sexual superhero, which broke all kinds of box office records when it premiered last weekend, had a 58 percent drop this weekend (on par with most comic book movies) and still easily topped the box office with an estimated $55 million. In 10 days, "Deadpool" has racked up $235.4 million to become the highest grossing movie from the "X-Men" universe. It's also the fastest R-rated movie to $200 million (nine days) and well on its way to being the highest-grossing R-rated title ever. These figures are even more impressive considering that none of those tickets had 3D surcharges.

"Kung Fu Panda 3" is displaying strong holding power as well. In its fourth weekend, the threequel finished in second place with an estimated $12.5 million. It's earned $117.1 million to date, in no small part because of smart timing on the part of distributor 20th Century Fox -- aside from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," it's the only family-friendly film currently in wide release. Fox also has the top two movies this weekend.

How are other films supposed to compete with these two that have staked out so much turf at the multiplex? Well, there are other niches to be served, and this weekend's three new wide releases each experiment with a novel approach to reaching them.

"Risen," which opened in third, is unusual for a Christian-themed movie. It has a clever premise -- it's a police procedural set in biblical Jerusalem, about a Roman officer charged with finding the body of Jesus after the crucifixion, a task complicated by the corpse's rumored resurrection. It has a fairly sizable budget by Christian movie standards (a reported $20 million). It's earned middling reviews from critics that are still better than the usually dismissive reviews that such films usually receive.

Finally, it has a major distributor behind it (Sony), which gave it a very wide release (2,915 screens) and which seems to have marketed it smartly enough to cross over beyond the Christian-movie audience to general viewers. (Getting a PG-13 rating was a good move, one that would indicate to weekend thriller-goers that "Risen" actually has some grit.) As a result, "Risen" opened slightly better than predicted, with an estimated $11.8 million. Word-of-mouth is very good, as measured by an A- grade at CinemaScore. It should hold up well over Lent, even though there will be other movies targeting the same audience, since "Risen" was first out of the gate.

"The Witch" also enjoyed success, more than some may have expected since it is a period horror movie about Puritans in the witch-trial era. The film's creepy take on the material, and meticulous attention to historical detail, helped it win big among the film buffs at Sundance last year. Critics raved too, giving the movie an 88 at Rotten Tomatoes.

All that acclaim is unusual for a horror film, and it led indie distributor A24 to go all out with its first big wide release for "The Witch." Opening on 2,045 screens, "Witch" earned an estimated $8.7 million, good for fourth place. It also had the best per-screen average ($4,245) of any new wide release this weekend. Paradoxically, "Witch" didn't impress ticketbuyers nearly as much as it did the critics; it earned a poor grade (C-) at CinemaScore. Guess the chilly atmospherics that impressed the reviewers didn't do much for a horror audience that prefers frequent jolts and gore.

Still, as experiments in thinking outside the box office box, "Risen" and "Witch" fared better than "Race."

The Jesse Owens biopic/sports drama seemed well-timed for Black History Month. Indeed, those who did buy tickets seemed to find it inspirational, giving it an A at CinemaScore. But they had to be drawn to the theater first, and that's where the Olympic runner's story stumbled.

"Race" was widely expected to open in fourth place at around $9 million. But it didn't even crack the top five. It opened instead in sixth place with an estimated $7.3 million. Whether the very good word-of-mouth "Race" earned will be enough to overcome its weak opening, the coming weeks will tell.

Nonetheless, at least the studios are trying something different. If only they would do that year round.