Film nabs Screen Gems record with $13.8 million.

Sony-Screen Gems’ big-screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks romance novel “Dear John” unseated Fox’s record-breaking tentpole “Avatar” in its eighth Friday, earning $13.8 million at 2,969.

First day for the young femme film reps the best ever for a Screen Gems film and for a pic unspooling during Super Bowl weekend – a frame when distribs carefully program films, ideally toward teens and females, knowing that a huge quadrant of moviegoers will be glued to the Big Game on Sunday.

“Dear John” also marks an opening day high for a Sparks’ lit adaptation, generating in one day, what most of his pics gross in a weekend; the last two films based on the author’s material, 2008’s “Nights in Rodanthe” and “The Notebook,” charted opening weekends just north of $13 million.

“Dear John” is the fifth Sparks novel to make it to the multiplex, starting with “Message in a Bottle” which grossed a $16.8 million opening weekend in February 1999. The next feature based on a Sparks book is Disney’s “The Last Song,” starring Miley Cyrus, which will bow on March 31.

Previous opening champ for Screen Gems was 2005’s horror-thriller “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” which generated $11.3 million on its first day and $30.1 in its first weekend.

“Dear John,” based on Sparks’ 2006 tome, follows a soldier played by Channing Tatum who returns home and falls for an idealistic college girl played by Amanda Seyfried. Film was produced and financed by Relativity Media and carries a thrifty estimated negative cost of $25 million.

Though slipping 18% to No. 2 from a week ago, Fox’s “Avatar” grossed $6.1 million from 3,000 locales and could still see a decent weekend gross by the end of Sunday. The Oscar-nominated film currently counts a domestic gross of $612.6 million.

In third, Lionsgate’s actioner “From Paris With Love” starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, collected an estimated $3 million off 2,994 in third. “Paris” was helmed by French director Pierre Morel whose shoot-em up film a year ago “Taken” scored the previous opening day high over Super Bowl weekend with $9.4 million.

Disney’s 2008 3D film “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour” owns the title as the biggest Super Bowl weekend opener ever with a three-day haul of $31.1 million.

Warner Bros.’ Mel Gibson pic “Edge of Darkness” took fourth with $2.3 million, a 59% decline in its second Friday and an eight-day domestic B.O. of $24.4 million.

Disney’s romantic comedy “When in Rome” posted $2 million off 2,456, down 54% in its second Friday and counting an eight-day cume of $17.4 million.

In sixth, Fox’s “The Tooth Fairy” grossed $1.6 million off 3,218, down 28% with a domestic B.O. in its third Friday of $29.5 million.

Warner Bros.’ “The Book of Eli” took seventh with $1.5 million off 2,820, down 39% with a domestic B.O. in its fourth Friday of $78.8 million.

Fox Searchlight’s Oscar contender “Crazy Heart” jumped into eighth with $1.08 million. Pic’s 90% jump stems from its expansion from 239 sites to 819 locales. The current cume for “Crazy” stands at $8.6 million.

At the onset of its third weekend, the new competish pushed Sony-Screen Gems “Legion”down to ninth with $1.06 million, down 48% at 2,339 with an estimated domestic B.O. of $32.3 million.

Warner Bros.’ “Sherlock Holmes” remained in the top 10 with an estimated $785, 000 off 1,805, down 35% for a Stateside gross just dollars away from the double-century mark — $199.7 million.

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