Not surprisingly, James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water" clung to first place on North American movie screens this weekend, pulling in an estimated $45 million, but an unexpectedly popular horror movie placed a strong second.
The "Avatar" sequel has now led the box office for four weeks, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations reported Sunday. The 20th Century sci-fi film has amassed domestic earnings of $516.8 million and $1.19 billion internationally, making it the seventh biggest movie in history.
But scary doll thriller "M3GAN" from Universal and Blumhouse -- the title stands for Model 3 Generative Android -- was also impressive, taking in a strong $30.2 million in its first weekend, far above analysts' expectations.
"M3GAN" tells the story of a creepily humanoid robot designed -- but evidently not that well -- to be the perfect companion for a young orphan girl (Violet McGraw).
"Horror movies are showing no slowdown at the box office," said David A. Gross of Franchise Entertainment Research. "Young moviegoers want to see them with their friends, on the big screen, for the maximum thrill."
"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," Universal's spin-off of the "Shrek" franchise, placed third. The family-oriented film took in $13.1 million for the Friday-through-Monday period, bringing its gross in North America to $87.7 million.
A new heart-warmer from Sony, "A Man Called Otto," took in $4.2 million in its second week out to place fourth.
An adaptation of the novel "A Man Called Ove" by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, "Otto" stars Tom Hanks as a curmudgeonly retiree whose rough edges are gradually softened by encounters with relentlessly upbeat neighbors.
And in fifth was Disney's superhero sequel "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," at $3.4 million. That brings its domestic total to $445.4 million.
Rounding out the top 10 were:
"Whitney Houston: I wanna Dance With Somebody" ($2.4 million)
"The Whale" ($1.5 million)
"Babylon" ($1.4 million)
"Violent Night" ($740,000)
"The Menu" ($713,000)