With an estimated $41 mil gross so far, the J.J. Abrams-produced monster movie is the top MLK weekend and January opener ever; Katehrine Heigl's ''27 Dresses'' is a strong second with $22.4 mil

Happy mid-weekend, box office fans! We’re only three-quarters of the way through the four-day Martin Luther King holiday frame, but already the mystery-shrouded monster movie Cloverfield has emerged as the clear-cut winner — and it has broken some pretty big records along the way.

With an estimated $41 million gross so far, the J.J. Abrams-produced film is now the top MLK weekend opener ever (the previous champ, Along Came Polly, yukked up $32.5 mil — in four days). Perhaps even more impressive, Cloverfield passed the 1997 Star Wars: Special Edition rerelease ($35.9 mil) to become the top January debut of all time. Rarely do we see box-office benchmarks more than a decade old fall anymore (largely because so few remain standing), so that gives you some idea of how impressive this is. What’s more, for any movie to earn $41 mil on a weekend in January, typically one of the year’s slower months at the multiplex, well, that’s truly something to be wowed by.

So where does Cloverfield go from here? Can it keep its momentum and blossom into a full-fledged monster of a blockbuster over the long run? Certainly in the short term it can: With Monday’s holiday, the film will get an extra day to ring up weekend cash. But its quite-poor CinemaScore grade of C (from an audience that was mostly young and male, naturally) is troubling, and it portends a big drop next weekend when fresh competition arrives from the spoof Meet the Spartans and the antique franchise film Rambo.

Of course, we shouldn’t let one great opening overshadow another: Katherine Heigl‘s 27 Dresses may have remained a bridesmaid at the box office, walking down the, er, multiplex aisle at No. 2, but it still looked great with $22.4 mil, the 10th-best January debut ever. Its crowd (which was a whopping 87 percent female) was doubly charmed, granting the romantic comedy a respectable B+ CinemaScore mark. In just three days, 27 Dresses has already landed at No. 6 on the list of the top MLK openings, and it should rise to second or third place in that ranking by the end of the holiday weekend.

The rest of the top five stayed particularly solid, with no movie declining more than 28 percent. The Bucket List came in at No. 3 with $15.2 mil. Juno was No. 4 with $10.3 mil. And National Treasure: Book of Secrets tallied $8.1 mil at No. 5, bringing its five-week cumulative gross to $198 mil.

Meanwhile, the weekend’s other major new movie, the distaff heist farce Mad Money (No. 7) underperformed as expected, with just $7.7 mil in 2,470 locations. And outside of the top 10, the moderately reviewed Woody Allen drama Cassandra’s Dream brought in a merely moderate $501,000 in 107 venues.

Nevertheless, the slew of strong performers boosted the overall box office by a whopping 19 percent from the same frame a year ago. And, hey, remember folks: The four-day holiday weekend isn’t over yet. Enjoy it!

MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Cloverfield earned an estimated $6 mil on Martin Luther King Day, bringing its record-breaking four-day weekend total to approximately $46 mil. Final figures will be released on Tuesday.

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