Make That 35 Jump Street

The parody update of the 1980s cop show muscles its way to a $35 million weekend, certifying the odd-couple star quality of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum

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Scott Garfield / Columbia Pictures

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum

Comedy was the top cop at North American movie houses. 21 Jump Street, the action comedy featuring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as undercover policemen in a high school with a drug problem, beat most industry expectations to earn $35 million, according to preliminary studio estimates, and win the weekend box-office bracket. And Will Ferrell, Hill’s voice costar in the animated feature Megamind, enjoyed a smaller but still muy grande opening — a top-10 finish of $2.2 million at just 382 theaters — for his Spanish-language comedy Casa de mi Padre.

[UPDATE: Actually, make that 36 Jump Street. In the final Monday figures, the cops-‘n’-kids movie topped its predicted weekend tally by about four percent, finishing at $36.3 million. Further down the list, Act of Valor and A Thousand Words switched positions — the Navy SEALs drama vaulting to fifth place with $3.7 million, the Eddie Murphy comedy dropping to sixth with $3.6 million.]

Because 21 Jump Street was the only wide debut, this was the first weekend of 2012 when the total box office tally didn’t exceed that of the same frame last year (when Limitless, The Lincoln Lawyer and Paul all opened on at least 2,500 screens). Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax kept the forests and box offices green with $22.8 million, good for runner-up status; and Disney’s megazillion-dollar space saga John Carter limped into the show position with $13.5 million. Beneath that trio: nothing but slim pickin’s. In fourth place was the faux-found-footage teen comedy Project X, at a minuscule $4 million: the lowest take for a fourth seed in at least two years. (The lowest fourth-placers in recent history: Machete’s $4.3 million and The Debt’s $4.8 million in the black-hole post-Labor Day weekends of 2010 and 2011.)

The mogul class wasn’t complaining, since the one big new picture did so well. A jokey revival of the ’80s TV show that launched Johnny Depp’s career, 21 Jump Street registered (as its patrons at Sony proudly announced) “the biggest opening weekend for a non-summer, non-sequel R-rated comedy,” topping Due Date’s $32.7 million in Nov. 2010. The movie drew in men and women in roughly equal measure — 53% male, 47% female — and exactly split its age demographic, with half below the age of 25, half above. The film’s core constituency reacted best: young viewers gave the movie an “A” CinemaScore rating, while those over 50 handed it a C-minus.

(READ: Corliss’s review of 21 Jump Street)

The picture’s smart trick was to make the hunk character (Tatum) and the nerd (Hill) equally idiotic, attractive and funny. Hill, who also helped write the movie and served as one of its executive producers, managed his best opening number for a prominent role in a live-action movie, above the $33.1 million for Superbad, the $19.5 million for Moneyball and the $17.6 million for Get Him to the Greek. The verdict for Hill’s screen personality is now in: annoying is appealing. And Tatum, the one-time male stripper who will reprise that role this summer in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, can now boast stardom in three genres. Aside from his Jump Street romp, he’s played weepie heroes in Dear John and The Vow and a stud grunt in the 2009 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra — whose sequel, Retaliation, is scheduled to open the same day as Magic Mike.

Like 21 Jump Street, Ferrell’s Casa de mi Padre is a parody of a parody. (Audiences were in that kind of mood this weekend.) The star has described his comedy as “telenovela meets a Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez/bad Mexican spaghetti Western.” The film’s $5,759 per-screen average was much heftier than the $3,307 average of the other comedy mini-release, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, starring Jason Segel and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, the brothers behind Cyrus.

(READ: Mary Pols’ reviews of Casa di mi Padre and Jeff, Who Lives at Home)

You’ll recall that Hill co-starred in Cyrus; these days there are no degrees of separation in mainstream or indie comedy. But as long as the funny men keep delivering, in big movies and small, Hollywood will have plenty to smile about.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. 21 Jump Street, $35 million, first weekend

2. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, $22.8 million; $158.4 million, third week

3. John Carter, $13.5 million; $53.2 million, second week

4. Project X, $4 million; $48.1 million, third week

5. A Thousand Words, $3.8 million; $12.1 million, second week

6. Act of Valor, 3.7 million; $62.4 million, fourth week

7. Safe House, $2.8 million; $120.2 million, sixth week

8. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, $2.5 million; $95.1 million, sixth week

9. Casa De Mi Padre, $2.2 million, first weekend

10. This Means War, $2.1 million; $50.5 million, fifth week