The Paramount release starring Jeff Bridges andbumped off Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller's comedy "Little Fockers," which was No. 1 for the previous two weekends. Released by Universal, "Little Fockers" slipped to second with $13.8 million, raising its total to $124 million.
"True Grit," which was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, lifted its total to $110.4 million.
Among newcomers, Nicolas Cage's supernatural thriller "Season of the Witch" opened at No. 3 with $10.7 million. Distributed by Relativity Media, the movie stars Cage as a knight in the Middle Ages escorting a suspected witch to her trial.
Gwyneth Paltrow's country-music drama "Country Strong" premiered at No. 6 with $7.3 million. The Sony Screen Gems release casts Paltrow as a boozy singer trying to get her act straight after rehab.
"True Grit" is a new take on Charles Portis' novel, previously adapted in a 1969 version that earned John Wayne an Academy Award. Bridges stars as lawman Rooster Cogburn, hired by a 14-year-old girl to track down her father's killer.
In Wayne's day, Westerns were a fixture in Hollywood, but the genre fell out of favor over the last 40 years. There was a small surge of $100 million Western hits in the 1990s, including Oscar best-picture winners "Dances With Wolves" and "Unforgiven."
The past decade brought the cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain" and the modestly successful Westerns "Open Range" and "3:10 to Yuma," but none approached the earnings of "True Grit," which also is the first $100 million hit for the Coen brothers.
While "True Grit" rides high, Hollywood's overall revenues continued a slide that persisted through the fall and holiday season. Ticket sales this weekend totaled $112 million, down 30 percent compared to the same period last year, when the science-fiction sensation "Avatar" led with $50.3 million.
The post-holiday period typically is a quiet time at movie theaters, but "Avatar" did blockbuster business last January, backed by such hits as "Sherlock Holmes" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel."
"This time a year ago, that little film called 'Avatar' was just pumping up the box office in a huge way and a totally unexpected way for January," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com.
Even the No. 4 movie from the same weekend last year, the vampire tale "Daybreakers," did $15.1 million, more than this weekend's No. 1 film.
Hollywood may get a box-office jolt this coming weekend with Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz's action tale "The Green Hornet" and Vince Vaughn and Kevin James' comedy "The Dilemma."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "True Grit," $15 million.
2. "Little Fockers," $13.8 million.
3. "Season of the Witch," $10.7 million.
4. "Tron: Legacy," $9.8 million.
5. "Black Swan," $8.4 million.
6. "Country Strong," $7.3 million.
7. "The Fighter," $7 million.
8. "The King's Speech," $6.811 million.
9. "Yogi Bear," $6.81 million.
10. "Tangled," $5.2 million.