Okay, so I was wrong. The Vince Vaughn-starrer Couples Retreat blew away every industry expectation, including my own, with a strong weekend gross of $35.3 million. The over-performing comedy comes as a welcome success to the folks at Universal, who have been battling a tough year at the box office and saw their two top movie executives leave their posts last week because of the hard times. The other industry surprise was the ridiculously impressive gross for the viral marketed phenomenon Paranormal Activity. Screening in just 159 theaters, Paramount’s uber-scary horror flick grossed an estimated $7.1 million, putting its per-screen average at an astronomical $44,163 and giving it the 5th spot in the weekend’s rankings. This film has garnered so much attention that the studio will take it nationwide next weekend.

The rest of the top five was dominated by strongly performing holdovers. Sony Pictures is attached to two of those films: Zombieland and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which took the second and third spots, respectively. The Woody Harrelson-Jesse Eisenberg buddy movie played much more like a comedy than a horror movie, and dropped a solid 39% to $15 million. Its ten-day cume now stands at $47.8 million, a great number for the $23 million-budgeted film. Cloudy continues to defy all expectations. In its fourth week of release the movie lost only 24% of its value, with a $12 million take. It’s verging on the $100 million mark, a milestone that it should reach quickly, considering lots of children will be home from school tomorrow for Columbus Day.

Disney’s 3-D re-release of the double feature Toy Story/Toy Story 2 could also get a bump tomorrow. Regardless, its second weekend earned the animated classics an additional $7.7 million for a fourth-place bow on the chart. The 3-D experiment has added a hefty $22.7 million to its coffers in two weeks of release.

In limited release, the beloved An Education, starring newcomer Carey Mulligan, opened strong on four screens, grossing $162,000 for a hefty per-screen average of $40,595. Sony Pictures Classics’ second release of the frame The Damned United (starring Michael Sheen) didn’t have as auspicious a beginning. On six screens, the film grossed $38,844. The total box office was up for the weekend compared to last year at this time, when Beverly Hills Chihuahua took the number one spot for the second week in a row.

Tune in next week when Where the Wild Things Are opens opposite The Stepfather and Law Abiding Citizen.