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Water for Elephants, Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon

20th Century Fox

Robert Pattinson has a brief and undistinguished box-office track record in movies minus Twilight mate Kristen Stewart.

So, how'd the Reese Witherspoon thing work out for him--and Water for Elephants?

YOUR PSYCHIC FRIEND: We know exactly what the future holds for Pattinson!

So far, so good.

The $40 million romantic drama, based on Sara Gruen's no-clowing-around novel of circus life in the 1930s, debuted with an estimated $17.5 million. The Friday-Sunday take was a bit bigger than expected for the film—and for the genre.

"Adult films usually don't sprint out of the gate. We did," Fox exec Bert Livingston told us in an email today. "I think being on bestseller list twice helped."

For Pattinson, the opening marks a step up from his last non-Twilight movie, Remember Me, which opened to $8.1 million last year.

Water for Elephants' performance probably comes as a greater relief to Witherspoon, whose How Do You Know was one of 2010's biggest bombs. That $120 million comedy-drama grossed less than $50 million worldwide.

Pattinson's and Witherspoon's film placed third in the weekend standings behind returning champ Rio ($26.8 million) and the debuting Madea's Big Happy Family ($25.8 million).

For Tyler Perry, the result was not unexpected—and not bad, either—but still surprising. This is his "smallest"-opening Madea movie since the multihyphenate's 2005 breakthrough, Diary of a Mad Black Woman ($22 million), and a steep comedown from 2009's Madea Goes to Jail ($41 million).

Elsewhere, Easter weekend did right by Hop as the animated bunny comedy crossed the $100 million mark domestically. It did right by Hollywood, too, which saw ticket sales perk up—way up—over last year. 

Scream 4 didn't get in on the fun, with business down a scary 62 percent from last weekend. 

It was also an unhappy holiday for Natalie Portman and James Franco's Your Highness. The $50 million comedy dropped out of the Top 10 after just two weekends and just $20 million overall domestically.

Russell Brand's Arthur is in the same sad state. The $40 million comedy remake is out on its rear after grossing less than $30 million and making few forget the Dudley Moore original.

Here's a complete rundown of the top-grossing films, per Friday-Sunday numbers as compiled by Exhibitor Relations.

  1. Rio, $26.8 million
  2. Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family, $25.8 million
  3. Water for Elephants, $17.5 million
  4. Hop, $12.5 million
  5. Scream 4, $7.2 million
  6. African Cats, $6.4 million
  7. Soul Surfer, $5.6 million
  8. Insidious, $5.4 million
  9. Hanna, $5.3 million
  10. Source Code, $5.1 million