M. Night Shyamalan's psychological thriller Split blew away box-office expectations, earning US$40.2 million (NZ$55.9m) in ticket sales over inauguration weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Despite the fact many were focused on Friday's presidential inauguration and Saturday's nationwide women's marches, Split doubled forecasts to easily lead all films.
The Universal Pictures release again brings together Shyamalan, director of The Sixth Sense, with the low-budget horror experts of Blumhouse Productions.
The PG-13-rated Split, starring James McAvoy as a man with split personalities, cost less than US$10m (NZ$13.9) to make and experts are guessing its success could be down to audiences trying to escape current events.
"This is an unusual weekend in our society and a lot of things have been going on that would otherwise divert our attention," said Nick Carpou, head of distribution for Universal.
"A film like this based on the elements that it brings and the audience that it attracts, I think can take some advantage of that either as a relief to current events or perhaps as an adjunct to them."
The Vin Diesel action sequel xXx: The Return of Xander Cage opened in second place, with US$50.5m (NZ$70.3m) internationally over the weekend.
And last weekend's top film, the stirring mathematician drama Hidden Figures, held on well, sliding to third place with an estimated US$16.3m (NZ$22.7m).
Despite the weekend's political events, the North American box office was up 29.2 per cent from the same weekend last year, according to comScore.
"You would think that those events would suck the air out of the room, but that didn't happen," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. "The movie theatre experience with the right content is irresistible no matter what is going on in the outside world, and in fact may even benefit from so much going on in the outside world. To have your wits scared out you is one of the greatest escapes."
A pair of other new releases had more difficulty rounding up audiences. The Weinstein Co.'s The Founder, a biopic about Ray Kroc of McDonald's starring Michael Keaton, launched in 1,100 theatres but gathered only US$3.8m (NZ$5.29m). It will be hoping for an Oscar nomination on Tuesday to help it stand out of the adult-skewing releases.
Oscar favorite La La Land is still going strong with US$8.4m (NZ$11.7m) in its seventh week.
Bombing altogether was the Christian drama The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, which took in US$1.4m (NZ$1.95m) from 1,000 theatres.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers also are included.
1. Split, NZ$55.98m (NZ$8.08m international).
2. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, NZ$27.8m (NZ$70.3m international).
3. Hidden Figures, NZ$22.7m (NZ$1.01m international).
4. Sing, NZ$12.53 (NZ$11.56m international).
5. La La Land, NZ$11.7m (NZ$23.1m international).
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, NZ$9.75m (NZ$12.53m international).
7. Monster Trucks, NZ$9.75m (NZ$3.34m international).
8. Patriots Day, NZ$8.36m.
9. The Founder, NZ$5.29m.
10. Sleepless, NZ$5.15m.