LOS ANGELES - Blizzard Nemo couldn't keep Whirlwind Melissa down as Melissa McCarthy's R-rated comedy Identity Thief packed its own punch at theaters this weekend, coasting to the top spot with her latest film.
Despite a snowstorm that shuttered dozens of theaters along the East Coast, McCarthy's Identity was an easy winner at the multiplex, coasting to No. 1 with $36.6 million, according to studio estimates from Hollywood.com.
The debut was more than twice analysts' projections, which were lowered in expectation of the snowstorm that left multi-foot-high drifts along the Eastern seaboard.
Yet there was no slipping for the hottest comic actress in Hollywood, whose raunchy antics propelled 2011's Bridesmaids to $169 million, one of the comedy surprises of the year.
Identity's debut, particularly in the face of the inclement weather, not only cements McCarthy as one of the most bankable comedians in Hollywood, but she has become an emblem of the hottest demographic in moviegoing: "older" women.
Mature females (studios consider anything over 30 an older woman) are driving films to surprising success. In addition to Bridesmaids and Identity, mature female moviegoers have made hits out of female-heavy films last year, including Les Misrables ($143 million so far), The Vow ($125 million) and Magic Mike ($114 million).
But Identity stands out because it rests squarely on McCarthy's shoulders.
"Those of us who watched Gilmore Girls have known for more than a decade that Melissa McCarthy is hilarious and charming," says Kim Hollis, analyst for Boxofficeprophets.com. "The rest of the world has just been catching up over the past few years."
And they're liking what they're catching. While critics excoriated the road trip comedy with Jason Bateman - only 24% gave it a thumbs-up, says survey site Rottemtomaotes.com - a solid 74% of movieogers liked it, a good prospect for a run through the laconic winter months.
Identity's performance comes as a surprise given Nemo's swath, which prompted several theater chains, including AMC and Regal, to shutter theaters in anticipation of the storm and for analysts to drop their expectations by millions.
But the movie made up financial ground in less affected areas, including the South and West, analysts say.
"Even with the storm, it dominated," says Ray Subers of Boxofficemojo.com, who notes that the opening marked one of the largest of 2013.
Weather wasn't as kind to Steven Soderbergh's thriller Side Effects, which took third place with $10 million. Despite strong reviews - about 85% of critics liked it, Rottentomatoes says - the debut met the lower end of of projections. Though a healthy dose of critics liked it, a so-so 70% of moviegoers found it effective, the amalgam site says.
The zombie comedy Warm Bodies was second with $11.5 million.
The Oscar hopeful Silver Linings Playbook took fourth with $6.9 million, bringing its total to a healthy $90 million and putting it within range of becoming the sixth movie nominated for a best-picture Oscar to eclipse $100 million before the Feb. 24 ceremony.
The other nominated films, many of which are still in theaters and continue to add to their grosses, are: Lincoln ($172 million), Django Unchained ($153 million), Les Miserables ($143 million), Argo ($122 million) and Life of Pi ($107 million).
The fairy tale update Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters earned $5.75 million.
Final figures are out Monday.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)