Photo courtesy: Gemma La Mana
LOS ANGELES -- There's no stopping Melissa McCarthy.
The comic actress behind Bridesmaids and Identity Thief struck again this weekend, leading The Heat to a strong second-place finish and trouncing Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, stars of the other new release, White House Down.
Heat racked up $40 million, according to studio estimates from box office trackers Hollywood.com.
While the debut couldn't dethrone last weekend's box office champ, Monsters University, the opening eclipsed analysts' forecasts, who foresaw a third-place finish and around $30 million.
Monsters University topped the box office for a second straight week with $46.2 million, just a 44% drop from last weekend's debut.
But the story at the box office was The Heat, which benefited from McCarthy's hot streak. Her 2011 film Bridesmaids was the comedy of summer, grossing $169 million. Earlier this year, her comedy Identity Thief wowed analysts with $135 million.
The Heat, similarly, seems destined for McCarthy's third straight hit.
Dave Karger of movie ticket retailer Fandango.com credited the pairing of Heat's stars with the surprising debut.
"The marketing for The Heat has done a terrific job in emphasizing the movie's greatest appeal: the incessant and often hilarious banter between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy," he says.
Gitesh Pandya of Boxofficeguru.com says the film pulled off a cinematic coup by messing with the police genre.
"The buddy cop formula has always been male dominated," he says. "This weekend, it (took) a detour."
Critics and fans seemed happy to follow. Almost two-thirds of the nation's critics recommended the movie, while 78% of moviegoers said they enjoyed the film, according to pollsters Rottentomatoes.com.
White House Down, the presidential hostage thriller with Tatum and Foxx, took fourth place with $25.7 million.
The debut fell about $6 million short of expectations, and its cause wasn't helped by reviewers. Only 50% of critics gave it a thumbs-up, compared with 73% of audiences, Rottentomatoes.com says.
The Brad Pitt zombie film World War Z took third place with $29.8 million, while the Superman reboot Man of Steel rounded out the top five with $20.8 million.
Final figures are due Monday.
The strong weekend helped Hollywood continue to chip away at the box office deficit. Ticket sales and attendance, once down double digits from last year's pace, are now less than 2% behind 2012's grosses the same time last year.