The Universal comedy earned $14.1 million during the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, enough to regain the box-office title after losing it last week to 20th Century Fox's "A Good Day to Die Hard," the Bruce Willis action sequel.
With a cumulative total of $93.7 million, "Identity Thief" is the biggest hit so far this year. Though the film has been badly reviewed by critics, the road trip duo of McCarthy and Jason Bateman has proved popular at the multiplexes, where no other comedy has been around to challenge it.
More than anything, "Identity Thief" has proven the stardom of McCarthy, following her breakout performance in "Bridesmaids."
"The holding power of a film always gives you an idea of the strength of its concept or its star," said Nikki Rocco, Universal head of distribution. "In this case, it's both."
With the industry gathering for the Oscars on Sunday, it's always a weekend in which moviegoers' attention goes more to the Academy Awards than the movie theater. For the fifth week in a row, the box office was down as compared with last year's business
One of the two new films in wide release, Lionsgate's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson action film, "Snitch," opened with $13 million. That was a decent but not strong showing for "Snitch" in a year in which action films largely have fared poorly.
Though "A God Day to Die Hard," the fourth film in the franchise, led the box office last week, it slid 60 percent in its second week to $10 million. Earlier action films from Arnold Schwarzenegger ("The Last Stand"), Jason Statham ("Parker") and Sylvester Stallone ("Bullet to the Head") performed worse.
The other new wide release was the Weinstein Co.'s "Dark Skies," a PG-13 horror film starring Keri Russell. It debuted with $8.9 million.
The down weekend was unlikely to dampen the Oscar celebration. The nine best picture nominees have largely fared well at the box office. This weekend, eight of them are in the top 21 films.
For the first time since the category's number of nominees was extended in 2009, six of the nominees grossed more than $100 million domestically: "Argo," ''Lincoln," ''Les Miserables," ''Silver Linings Playbook," ''Django Unchained" and "Life of Pi." ''Zero Dark Thirty" missed narrowly with $91.6 million going into the Oscars.
"It's one of the best performing groups of nominees I've ever seen," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "Great night for Hollywood, tough day at the box office."
A box-office bump could follow for Sunday's big winners, though any benefit might be better found overseas, where some of the films are still expanding. The best picture favorite, Ben Affleck's Iran rescue thriller "Argo," is already out on DVD in North America.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "Identity Thief," $14 million.
2. "Snitch," $ 13 million.
3. "Escape From Planet Earth," $11 million.
4. "Safe Haven," $10.6 million.
5. "A Good Day to Die Hard," $10 million.
6. "Dark Skies," $8.9 million.
7. "Silver Linings Playbook," $6.1 million.
8. "Warm Bodies," $4.8 million.
9. "Side Effects," $3.6 million.
10. "Beautiful Creatures," $3.4 million.