Red Dragon took a chunk out of the weekend box office, storming in with the biggest October opening ever.

The prequel to The Silence of the Lambs tallied a tasty $36.5 million over the weekend, according to final studio figures released Monday.

"This is a terrific opening, and the best news is that, based on our exit polls, this third time around, audiences were not disappointed one bit," says Nikki Rocco, president of distribution for Universal Pictures. "This is a very classy suspense thriller that will play throughout the fall season."

However, the latest entry in the serial killer saga didn't gobble up as many debut dollars as last year's Hannibal, which opened with $58 million and eventually grossed $165 million. The latest outing by Anthony Hopkins as the cunning cannibal did open stronger than Hopkins' Oscar-winning 1991 original, which began with $11.6 million and eventually grossed $130.7 million.

And inevitably, Red Dragon, which also stars Ralph Fiennes as a bizarre murderer, did much, much better than 1986's critically praised but overlooked Manhunter. Both films are based on the first of Thomas Harris' novels featuring the diabolical Dr. Lecter.

Manhunter--directed by Michael Mann and starring Brian Cox as Lecter and CSI's William L. Petersen as the FBI agent (played this time by Edward Norton)--made only $2.2 million its opening weekend and has since grossed just $8.5 million.

Back to this weekend. The arrival of Universal's R-rated Red Dragon not only topped the October record previously held by the domestic farce Meet the Parents, but also pushed last week's number one, the romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama, down to second place. But not that far down. The PG-13 Disney movie starring Reese Witherspoon earned another $21.3 million and has now grossed $65.3 million.

The other new wide release of the week, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, did reasonably well in sixth place considering the quirky, faith-based cartoon was only on 940 screens. This Artisan release--an odd take on the Bible school parable of the prophet inside the whale, acted out by a bunch of computer-generated garden fare--opened with $6.2 million, with a per-screen average of $6,597.

For a G-rated family movie, that compared favorably to the $10,885 average for the adult-oriented Red Dragon at 3,357 screens and flat-out beat the $6,456 for Sweet Home Alabama at 3,303 screens.

In really limited release, the best per-screen average went to Bloody Sunday, the faux documentary about the Irish troubles. The Paramount Classics release, which reenacts the 1972 conflict in Derry, earned about $29,000 from just two theaters.

At four screens, the R-rated Miramax release Heaven, a murky drama starring Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi, earned $52,000. Both those movies were way ahead of the $4,699 per screen taken in by Warner Bros.' R-rated Welcome to Collinwood, a crime caper featuring a cameo by George Clooney, which heisted only $75,000 from 16 screens.

The domestic drama Moonlight Mile, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon, expanded from very limited release into 434 theaters and subsequently moved up to the top 10 list, earning $1.9 million in ninth place.

Another weekend, another piece of good news for IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Finishing in fourth place over the weekend, the romantic comedy grossed $8.2 million. That brings Wedding's current haul to $147.7 million in 25 weeks of release, making it the highest grossing independent movie ever, surpassing the $140.5 million scared up by The Blair Witch Project.

According to Exhibitor Relations, the top 12 films this weekend grossed $101 million, a 10 percent gain over last week, and 22 percent more than this time last year.

Here's a recap of the top 10 films:

1. Red Dragon, $36.5 million
2. Sweet Home Alabama, $21.3 million
3. The Tuxedo, $10 million
4. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, $8.2 million
5. Barbershop, $6.6 million
6. Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie, $6.2 million
7. The Banger Sisters, $3.5 million
8. The Four Feathers, $2.1 million
9. Moonlight Mile, $1.9 million
10. One Hour Photo, $1.7 million

(Originally published 10/6/02 at 2:25 p.m. PT.)