‘Shutter Island’ earns $40.2 million, top box-office spot

Say this for the Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio partnership: It’s a profitable pairing.

While the duo isn’t beloved by critics as much as, say, Scorsese and Robert De Niro or Scorsese and Harvey Keitel, there’s no denying the latest pair have found their commercial wheelhouse.

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Shutter Island coasted to the top stop at the box office, raking in $40.2 million, according to studio estimates from Rentrak Inc.

TOP 10 CHART: See how your favorite films fared at the multiplex

The debut marks the largest for director and star, together and individually. Shutter eclipses the debut of 2006’s The Departed, which opened to $26.9 million and went on to do $132.4 million, Scorsese’s biggest movie.

For DiCaprio, the debut edges out his debut in 2002’s Steven Spielberg drama Catch Me If You Can, which opened to $30.1 million and went on to do $164.6 million.

“Let’s face it. There are a dwindling number of global stars on the planet,” says Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures, which released Shutter. “Leonardo DiCaprio is one of them. And when you put him with one of the legends, you’re seeing a chemistry that’s rare.”

The film, more horror-thriller than their previous dramatic pairings, was to be released in October. But Moore says the studio saw an opportunity to highlight the film in Super Bowl and Olympic promotions.

“When we (planned a release date) in fall, we presumed it was going to be more of a drama and awards contender,” he says. But it “played more as a thriller and audience movie. The good news for us was we had material that audiences were going to respond to, whenever it came out.”

Indeed, strong reviews — 67% of critics recommended the movie, according to RottenTomatoes.com — and the star pairing scared off the competition, which opened no new films.

The romantic comedy Valentine’s Day did $17.2 million, good for second place and $87.4 million over 10 days.

James Cameron‘s space opus Avatar was third with $16.1 million, lifting its all-time best total to $687.8 million.

The fantasy-book adaptation Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief was fourth with $15.3 million, followed by The Wolfman‘s $9.8 million.

The strong debut helped ticket sales for 2010’s first quarter, which is up almost 10% from the same period last year.

Final figures are due Monday.

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