A wildly popular vampire love story took a big bite out of the box office, helping deliver a banner weekend for the industry as Hollywood brushed off one of the most tumultuous weeks ever on Wall Street.
"Twilight," the film that drew legions of fans of Stephenie Meyer's vampire book series, more than delivered on the advance hype by generating an estimated $70.5 million in North American box-office receipts during its opening weekend. The movie rang up the fourth-highest November opening weekend of all time.
That's an extraordinary result for an independently produced film that cost just $37 million to make and was passed over by Paramount's MTV Films.
Hollywood was confounded by the popularity of the film, which tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet-type romance between a mortal and a vampire. Estimates of the movie's opening had ranged from $35 million to $60 million.
"This certainly exceeded our expectations by a great deal," said Richie Fay, president of domestic distribution for Summit Entertainment. "The fan base was huge."
Summit is a new independent distributor and finance company that had struggled to establish its footing in Hollywood. But now it has plenty of bragging rights.
"Twilight" contributed to a strong weekend at the box office, which kept ticket sales running slightly ahead of last year. The top 12 films grossed $159.4 million, up 6% over the same weekend a year earlier, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm Media by Numbers.
"This is another example of how the economy has not slowed people at all from going to watch movies," he said. "We're set up to have one of the biggest Thanksgiving weekends ever."
Coming in second place was "Quantum of Solace," Sony Corp. and MGM's James Bond film, which last week had the biggest opening for a Bond film and took in $27.4 million more this weekend. To date, the movie has garnered $418 million worldwide.
Walt Disney Studios' computer-animated film "Bolt," about the adventures of a superdog TV action star who accidentally gets shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York, made $27 million, which was less than expected.
"Everyone thought it would be in the lows 30s," said Chuck Viane, president of domestic distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. "What you have is a tsunami in the marketplace called 'Twilight.' "
Nonetheless, Viane said, the film, which has received good reviews, is poised for a strong showing over the Thanksgiving weekend, when family movies traditionally do well.
The performance of "Bolt" is being closely watched because it is the first Disney animated movie being overseen entirely by Pixar's creative guru, John Lasseter and tech chief Ed Catmull since the Burbank studio acquired Pixar nearly 2 1/2 years ago.
Although few predicted such a big opening for "Twilight," there were ample signs that the movie would deliver big. Huge crowds showed up to catch a glimpse of the stars at the premiere in Los Angeles last week and at events in Toronto, Chicago and Dallas. Thousands camped out this summer in San Diego at the Comic-Con International trade show to see the cast and crew.
And many shows were sold out in advance. Theaters from Bellingham, Wash., to Boston had to add additional show times to meet the demand for tickets. Online ticket seller Fandango said the movie ranked third behind "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith" and "The Dark Knight" on its top 10 list of advance ticket sellers.
As with the "Harry Potter" franchise, "Twilight" tapped into a rabid fan base. The series of four books has sold 25 million copies worldwide and generated more than 350 fan sites. Summit recently announced it would produce a sequel based on the second book.
Like the book, "Twilight" hit a chord with teenage girls and women, who may see the movie multiple times, driving up box-office sales. Summit said exit polls showed that 75% of the audiences were females. Although most who watched the movie were under age 25, plenty of adults went as well, with 45% of all viewers being 25 years or older.
A similar phenomenon occurred with "Titanic," another love story, which became the highest-grossing movie of all time. Whether "Twilight" will replicate that success, of course, remains to be seen.
The movie also was helped by the appeal of its stars, Kristen Stewart, who plays the love-struck Bella Swan, and Robert Pattinson, who assumes the role of the mysterious and witty vampire Edward Cullen.
Pattinson was already known to fans of the "Harry Potter" movies as Cedric Diggory. The stars made the cover of Entertainment Weekly and were heavily featured on MTV.
In addition, "Twilight" benefited from an early marketing campaign that made extensive use of the Internet and social networking sites including MySpace, where the final trailer premiered.
Rounding out the top-five grossing movies over the weekend were "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," the DreamWorks Animation sequel that drew $16 million for a three-week domestic total of $137.4 million, and Universal Pictures' comedy "Role Models," which generated $7.2 million, to bring its three-week tally to $48 million.
Verrier is a Times staff writer.