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Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes to Jail” reigned at the weekend box office, opening with $41.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

It was the highest grossing film ever for both Perry and the film’s studio, Lionsgate. Since Perry’s 2005 “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” – his highest previous debut with $30 million – the actor-director-producer’s films have frequently opened strongly, while generating little mainstream buzz.

Perry’s box office clout has lessened recently, but the success of “Madea Goes to Jail” reinforces the notion that Perry draws the largest audience when he dons a frumpy dress as his trademark grandmother character, Madea.

Steve Rothenberg, president of distribution at Lionsgate said the debut of “Madea” was the studio’s best opening in its 14-year history. The studio’s previous top opening was the $33.6 million debut of 2006’s “Saw III.”

“You could argue that Madea is now the top female box office star in Hollywood,” said Rothenberg, whose studio has distributed all seven of Perry’s films, several of which were released straight to DVD. “The character is one of the great screen creations of the last decade.”

Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media By Numbers, said Perry has “tapped into something here that is irresistible to moviegoers … Madea may have gone to jail, but Tyler Perry is going to the bank.”

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