"Avatar" fell to second place for the first time, dropping a still scant 25 percent to $23.6 million. The James Cameron film has now out-grossed every movie in the history of cinema (as long as we don't adjust for inflation) with a domestic take of an astounding $630 million.
The other wide release, "From Paris With Love," didn't have nearly as an auspicious debut. The R-rated actioner from "Taken" director Pierre Morel mostly drew audiences interested in John Travolta's turn as an over-the-top, gun-toting renegade CIA operative, yet earned only an estimated $8.1 million.
Much of "Dear John's" success can be attributed to a successful marketing campaign targeted towards women, who comprised 84 percent of the audience. The movie, which was based on Nicholas Sparks' novel, was financed entirely by Relativity Media, and distributed by Sony's Screen Gems division. It bested the previous record held by 2008's concert film "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds" which opened to $31.1 million.
The rest of the top ten was dominated by holdovers. Mel Gibson's "Edge of Darkness" had quite a steep fall this weekend, losing 59 percent of last week's haul for a fourth place finish with $7 million.
"Tooth Fairy" has benefited from a lack of children's fare in the marketplace. The film's third week in theaters fell only 35 percent for an additional $6.5 million. The film's cume still needs some help with only $34 million.
"When in Rome" was crushed by women flocking to "Dear John." The romantic comedy starring Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell fell 55 percent to $5.5 million. It's 10-day total stands at $21 million.
"The Book of Eli" took spot seven with $4.8 million, while "Crazy Heart" benefited greatly from its three Oscar nominations. The film, which added some 700 theaters to its release, landed in the top 10 for the first time, grossing $3.6 million for an eighth spot in the derby.
Rounding out the top ten were "Legion" in slot nine with an additional $3.4 million while "Sherlock Holmes" crossed the $200 million mark its seventh weekend in theaters with an additional $2.6 million. It's total now stands at $201 million.
Even though records were broken for the top film, the weekend still performed beneath last year at this time when "Gran Torino," "Paul Blart Mall Cop," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Taken" dominated the frame.