Darren Bent scored twice to give 10-man Charlton a winning start to the season and hand Sunderland a reality check on their return to the Premiership.
Addicks debutant Bent opened the scoring with a low shot after only 10 minutes as the visitors began well.
Against the run of play, Sunderland new boy Andy Gray levelled from in close.
Darren Ambrose was dismissed on his debut for a lunge on Stephen Wright before Danny Murphy curled in a superb free-kick and Bent struck a late third.
Sunderland had been away from the Premiership for two years and it showed as last season's Championship winners made a laboured start.
And Bent soon scored his first goal for Charlton after latching on to a long pass.
Keeper Kelvin Davis pushed the striker wide, but Bent eventually shot into the bottom corner.
Perhaps unsurprising given the number of new personnel in their side - four were making their debut - Sunderland looked disjointed.
And in the driving rain, Charlton poured forward.
But Murphy could only inaccurately direct a free header at back post after Dennis Rommedahl's cross had picked him out.
As a provider, Murphy fared much better when he showed superb skill to twist away from two men before providing a great chance for Bent, who horribly scuffed his shot.
The midfielder then teed up Alexei Smertin, who hit the bar via Davis' outstretched fingertips.
But despite Charlton's pressure, Sunderland accepted a barely-deserved chance to get back in the game.
Whitehead's close-range effort was repelled by Stephan Anderson's superb reaction save only for Gray to slot home the rebound.
A moment of madness just after the interval saw Ambrose sent off for a reckless, studs-up lunge on full-back Wright.
But before Sunderland could make their numerical advantage tell, Charlton restored their lead.
The outstanding Murphy curled a stunning free-kick in to the top right corner.
It staggered Sunderland's players and the home fans - those who had bothered to turn up in a stadium only two thirds full.
Charlton re-organised well to combat the loss of Ambrose, and having got themselves ahead again, they looked in little danger of letting the lead slip.
Gray came closest to a Sunderland equaliser late on following a goalmouth scramble, but his shot was always rising over the bar.
And right at the end, Bent demonstrated the clinical finishing Sunderland must produce to survive in the top-flight by firing home an angled drive to underline Charlton's superiority.
Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy:
"It wouldn't be normal if we didn't lose our first game of the season. Losing 3-1 looks awful, and I suppose it is, but at 2-1 it was all or bust and we could have nicked an equaliser.
"We changed the shape of our team and got back in the game - and deservedly so. It settled down and I was happy enough at half-time.
"Danny Murphy's finish was fabulous for their second goal but we were at fault in the build-up and we have to stop that kind of thing."
Charlton manager Alan Curbishley:
"We came into today's game and knew it would be tricky. We came in at half-time thinking we should have had the game wrapped up.
"We were disappointed to come in at 1-1 at the break and then after the sending off you think it's not going to be your day.
"But we stuck to it and played ever so well - albeit with 10 men - and we thoroughly deserved the result."
Sunderland: Davis, Wright (Nosworthy 80), Breen, Caldwell, Arca, Whitehead, Miller, Robinson (Lawrence 61), Welsh (Elliott 79), Gray, Stead.
Subs Not Used: Brown, Joe Murphy.
Booked: Arca, Wright.
Goals: Gray 32.
Charlton: Andersen, Young, Perry, Hreidarsson, Powell, Murphy, Smertin (Hughes 88), Kishishev, Rommedahl (Thomas 58), Bent, Ambrose.
Subs Not Used: Bartlett, Fortune, Myhre.
Sent Off: Ambrose (55).
Goals: Bent 11, Murphy 64, Bent 90.
Ref: H Webb (S Yorkshire).