Sequel opened to estimated $45.1 mil

Ratings, schmatings.

Along with new evidence of the allure of sequels and the power of super-saturation releases, “American Pie 2″ came with this sweet topping for distrib Universal: A well-marketed pic can succeed even when wrapped in an R-rating.

The estimated $45.1 million weekend bow for U’s sequel to 1999’s “Pie” — which more than doubled the original’s $18.7 opening — is the best ever for an R-rated laffer. Bow outpaced a previous record set by Miramax/Dimension’s horror spoof “Scary Movie,” which opened in July 2000 at $42.3 million. “Pie 2″ perf also repped the second-best “R” opener of any kind after MGM/U’s “Hannibal,” which unspooled at $58 million in February.

Conventional wisdom had it that such feats would no longer be possible for R-rated laffers, after exhibs –acknowledging political pressures –tightened enforcement of guidelines barring patrons under 17. So how did U pull off the boffo “Pie ” bow?

The simple answer seems to be clever marketing. Exit polls show a stunning reversal of the original’s 55% male bias to a 53% female skewing for “Pie 2.” U marketing boss Peter Adee fashioned TV spots in advance of the sequel’ opening that keyed less on gross-out humor and more on characters’ general “amiability.”

“A couple of months back, people were saying the R-rated comedy was dead, and we had a lot of conversation about it,” Adee recalled. “What came out of that was a campaign that was user-friendly — we reminded people of characters that they knew and loved.”

Adee added that both “Pie” pics “put people in embarrassing positions, but in a gentle way and one that involves people you like.”

By the same token, it seems a stretch to suggest that success with an established R-laffer franchise like “Pie” means that new titles bearing that rating can bow well without big teen numbers. But that’s what U execs claim they did with “Pie 2.”

Exit data showed some 67% of pic’s auds were under 25, but execs claim precious few of those younger patrons were under age 17. Meanwhile, credit U distrib topper Nikki Rocco and her troops for muscling an impressive 3,063 engagements for pic’s Friday bow, despite a late-summer season that remains crowded to an extent never seen before. Just three days prior to pic’s opening, Rocco had said she’d be fortunate to make it into 2,900 theaters, as “Rush Hour 2,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Jurassic Park III” together accounted for almost 10,000 competing playdates.

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