While 2012 overseas box office kicked off with a new weekend champ, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” the domestic B.O. began the new year with a record-setting bang, as Paramount’s “The Devil Inside” scored $34.5 million — the best Stateside debut ever for a pic in early January.

The “Devil” bow ranks as the third-highest January debut overall, behind 2008’s “Cloverfield,” which bowed to $40.1 million, and the “Star Wars” reissue, with its $35.9 million opening in 1997. (Both of those pics launched mid- to late-January.)

But records aside, “The Devil Inside” — the second original title to go through Par’s genre label Insurge — is already a hugely profitable venture for Par: The studio acquired the pic for just $1 million, and the marketing spend was limited.

“When you have a million-dollar movie, the (marketing) process can be very fun and loose,” Par marketing and distribution head Megan Colligan told Variety . “As we did stunts and launched material, you could see the fanbase expanding and growing. The social conversation was impressive. That is what Insurge movies aim to do.”

Par is handling the majority of overseas markets for “Devil,” including most of Europe. Pic isn’t, however, skedded to bow in its first major territories — Brazil and Spain — until early February.

This weekend, Warner Bros.’ “Sherlock” sequel managed to oust three-week B.O. leader “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” with an estimated $43.4 million. “Mission” collected $27.7 million this weekend from overseas wickets, bringing its international cume to $287.9 million; “Sherlock” has tallied $177.2 million offshore.

“Devil” helped lift overall domestic filmgoing, as the weekend’s B.O. was up 26%-28% over the same frame last year.

The frame’s holdover crop held much better than expected, especially Par-Skydance’s “Mission: Impossible,” which fell just 30% for an estimated three-day gross of $20.5 million. In third place, Warner’s “Game of Shadows” also displayed considerable resiliency, down just 33% to earn an estimated $14.1 million. Domestically, “Mission” has cumed $170.2 million; “Sherlock,” $157.4 million.

Bizzers expected the frame-to-frame drops from last weekend’s stellar New Year’s traffic to be much higher across the board.

That didn’t happen. In fact, Sony’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” saw one of the weekend’s best holds, off just 24%, yielding a three-day gross of $11.3 million — enough for fourth place — and a domestic cume of $76.8 million. Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” followed in weekend standing, tallying an estimated $9.5 million, down 42%, for a domestic cume of $111.6 million.

Meanwhile, Focus Features’ “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” expanded to 809 theaters, up approximately 750 vs. last weekend, and landed in the top 10 with $5.8 million. Domestic cume is $10.4 million.

“The film definitely demonstrated the capability to play to a broad audience,” said Jack Foley, prexy of theatrical distribution at Focus.

‘Devil’s’ polarizing effect

“The Devil Inside” divided audiences. Pic received a rare overall F CinemaScore rating, based on opening-night exit polls. Looking closer, however, “Devil” scored almost as many A ratings (16%) as it did the lowest score, at 19%.

The majority of auds gave the film C and D appraisals. The CinemaScore org rates films using a bell curve system.

Par insisted that “Devil” received most of its lowest scores because of the film’s disturbing nature.

“You definitely have people on either side saying, ‘That was awesome, go see it,’ and others saying, ‘That was scary as hell, don’t go see it, ‘ ” Colligan said. “But as long as there’s conversation about the movie, that’s a great thing.”

In an effort to spark dialogue, Par invited auds to visit RossiFiles.com (displayed at the end of the film), which provides facts and theories about the pic’s central character, Maria Rossi.

Still, horror films typically drop off considerably in subsequent weeks, depending on word of mouth. Scarers like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise tend to leg out based on cult-like interest. Other pics, such as 2010’s low-budget exorcism offering “The Last Exorcism,” topped out at $41 million domestically after opening to $20.4 million. (Par said it expects “Devil” to have a similar two-times multiple.)

“Devil” played to an overwhelming 84% of auds under 34, with 54% of that under 25. Pic skewed slightly toward men (54%).

B.O.’s overseas ‘Game’

This weekend, Warners bowed “Sherlock” in 12 additional markets, led by Australia and Spain, where the pic bowed to $6.5 million and $4.9 million, respectively. Pic ranked tops in both territories.

In Oz, “Sherlock” beat Fox’s “Alvin” three-quel, which collected there an estimated $3.7 million in its second frame. “Alvin,” also expanding to key markets like Brazil and Italy, posted an overall weekend gross of $30.1 million internationally — enough to claim the B.O.’s No. 2 spot, ahead of “Mission: Impossible.” The live action-toon hybrid earned $6.7 million in Brazil, followed Italy, which contributed $5.2 million.

In total, “Alvin” has raked in $128.4 million from 62 international markets.

Par-DreamWorks Animation’s “Puss in Boots” also has launched in most major territories, and in its 11th frame, the toon grossed $18.2 million for an overseas cume of $311.6 million.

In far fewer territories (33), Sony’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” reached $29.3 million, boosted by a hearty weekend gross of $12.6 million. Pic opened in Russia, grossing $6.5 million in seven days, exceeding the lifetime local grosses for all of David Fincher’s previous films.