Cloverfield, a film about a giant monster attacking New York, opened in North America with a January record of $41m (£21m), studio estimates showed.
Cloverfield was created by JJ Abrams, the man behind TV's Lost
It beat the $35.9m (£18.4m) achieved when the first Star Wars movie was reissued in January 1997.
Romantic comedy 27 Dresses, telling of a perpetual bridesmaid, was in second place this week with $22.4m (£11.4m).
Last week's top film, The Bucket List, about two cancer patients who travel the world before they die, was third.
There was an overall surge in figures, with the top 12 films taking $135.3m (£69.4m), up 39% from the same weekend last year.
NORTH AMERICAN BOX OFFICE
1. Cloverfield ($41.0m)
2. 27 Dresses ($22.4m)
3. The Bucket List ($15.2m)
4. Juno ($10.3m)
5. National Treasure: Book of Secrets ($8.1m)
6. First Sunday ($7.8m)
7. Mad Money ($7.7m)
8. Alvin and the Chipmunks ($7.0m)
9. I Am Legend ($5.1m)
10. Atonement ($4.8m)
Source: Media By Numbers
Cloverfield, which does not feature any big-name stars, is seen through the lens of a party-goer's hand-held video camera.
It captures the creature causing chaos as it rips through the city.
It was produced by JJ Abrams, creator of Alias and Lost and director of Mission: Impossible III.
The film was aimed at the youth market, with a cryptic campaign which featured intriguing clues for a scavenger hunt to discover the production's plot, images and title.