Thriller The Exorcism of Emily Rose has notched up one of the most successful US debuts for a September film release.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose cost less than $20m (£11m) to make
Starring Tom Wilkinson and Laura Linney, it is the tale of a priest on trial after a teenage girl dies during an exorcism.
It took more than $30m (£16m) over the weekend, according to studio estimates.
This month is traditionally a slow one for Hollywood. The record for a new September release is $36m for Sweet Home Alabama in 2002.
Rory Bruer, president of distribution for Sony Pictures, which released The Exorcism of Emily Rose, described its takings as "phenomenal".
"The movie cost us less than $20m (£11m) to make," he said. "We would have been very happy had the picture opened to $15m (£8m)."
NORTH AMERICAN BOX OFFICE
1. The Exorcism of Emily Rose - $30.2m
2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin - $7.9m
3. Transporter 2 - $7.2m
4. The Constant Gardener - $4.8m
5. Red Eye - $4.6m
Source: Exhibitor Relations
Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking company Exhibitor Relations, said the film's success was down to its combination of genres.
"It has a lot of very interesting elements that make it not your typical horror movie," he said.
The weekend earnings for The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which is out in the UK on 4 November, amounted to more than the next five films combined.
Last week's top film, action movie Transporter 2, starring British actor Jason Statham, fell to third place with weekend sales of $7.2m (£3.9m).
Samuel L Jackson and Eugene Levy star in comedy The Man
Another former number one, comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, rose back to number two with $7.9m (£4.3m).
Drama The Constant Gardener, starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, is fourth, with Wes Craven's Red Eye in fifth.
But buddy comedy The Man, pairing Samuel L Jackson and Eugene Levy, could only manage a $4m (£2.2m) opening in sixth place.
Meanwhile, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp, has gone back to the top of the international box office chart, according to industry media.
Tim Burton's film has now made almost $156m (£85m) outside the US and Canada, Screen Daily reported.