"Fury" kicked two-time box office leader "Gone Girl" to second place. The thriller starring Ben Affleck collected $17.8 million from Friday through Sunday, according to data from tracking firm Rentrak.
Animated movie "The Book of Life" earned the No. 3 spot with a debut of $17 million at domestic theaters.
In "Fury," Pitt plays a hardened war veteran who leads men overcome by fatigue and traveling by tank in Nazi Germany during the final months of World War Two. Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena and Logan Lerman play the rest of his U.S. Army crew.
Critics gave high marks to "Fury" for strong performances and a fresh take on the genre, with 80 percent recommending the film in reviews collected on the Rotten Tomatoes website.
The movie, which cost $68 million to make, fell just shy of industry projections of an opening of at least $25 million.
"We're in it for the long haul," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at Sony Corp's movie studio, which released the film, calling the figure "within the realm of what we expected" and "a very good start".
Bruer noted that "Fury" appeals strongly to men, but that "women who have seen it love it as well," and that the film received an A- CinemaScore grade based on audiences' ratings.
"The Book of Life" draws on Mexican art and wooden puppets to animate a colorful love story rooted in the Mexican Day of the Dead festivities. It follows childhood friends Manolo (Diego Luna), Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Maria (Zoe Saldana).
The movie is a co-production of Reel FX Creative Studios and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc's Twentieth Century Fox studios. The production cost $50 million.
Fox also released "Gone Girl", the big-screen book adaptation that stars Affleck as a writer who becomes a suspect when his wife disappears. The movie has collected $107.1 million domestically since its Oct. 3 debut.
Walt Disney Co family film "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" came in fourth, earning $12 million, while newly released romance "The Best of Me" finished in fifth.
Based on a Nicholas Spark book, "The Best of Me" stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan as high school sweethearts who reunite years later. Released by privately held Relativity Media, it took in $10.2 million, missing Boxofficemojo's projection of an opening of around $15 million.
A Relatively representative said the firm was confident the film would do well in the coming weeks, "given its word of mouth and strong CinemaScore."