LOS ANGELES – James Bond's quantum of the weekend box office: $70.4 million.
"Quantum of Solace," with Daniel Craig returning as Bond for the first direct sequel in the spy franchise's history, pulled in nearly $30 million more over opening weekend than its predecessor, 2006's "Casino Royale," according to studio estimates Sunday.
The debut topped the previous opening-weekend record for a Bond flick, $47 million for 2002's "Die Another Day."
Adjusting for inflation, Sony's "Quantum of Solace" easily drew a bigger audience than that installment, the last Bond adventure featuring Pierce Brosnan. Based on 2002 admission prices, about 8.1 million tickets were sold for "Die Another Day" in the first weekend, compared to 9.8 million for "Quantum of Solace."
Two years ago, Craig was an unknown quantity as Bond, a stage-trained actor with little action experience and a resume that tended toward small, artsier films. Many fans were unhappy with the casting choice, but the critical and commercial success of "Casino Royale" silenced the critics.
"Quantum of Solace" picks up where "Casino Royale" left off, with Bond seeking to avenge the death of his lover.
"With 'Casino Royale,' people were rediscovering the franchise in a way with Daniel Craig as James Bond," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony. "Quite frankly, they loved it. They loved the movie, and they loved him in the role, so I think by the time `Quantum of Solace' was ready, audiences in the U.S. as well as the world audience was way ready."
"Quantum of Solace" began rolling out overseas two weekends before its U.S. debut, its worldwide total now standing at $322 million.
DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," which debuted at No. 1 the previous weekend, slipped to second-place with $36.1 million, raising its 10-day total to $118 million.
"Quantum of Solace" gave a huge boost to overall revenues as Hollywood heads toward Thanksgiving, one of the year's busiest weekends at theaters. The top-12 movies took in $142.9 million, up 54 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when "Beowulf" led the box office with $27.5 million.
Movie revenue is running 1 percent ahead of 2007's record pace, when the industry took in $9.7 billion, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers. Factoring in inflation, the number of tickets sold this year is 3.5 percent behind 2007's, though.
The next two weekends bring more likely hits, including the vampire romance "Twilight," John Travolta and Miley Cyrus' animated comedy "Bolt" and Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn's holiday romp "Four Christmases."
"Hollywood is in the best possible position right now, because it's all about momentum, and the industry certainly has that heading into the all-important holiday period," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers.
Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire" had an impressive debut in limited release, taking in $350,434 in 10 theaters for a strong average of $35,043 a cinema. By comparison, "Quantum of Solace" averaged $20,400 in 3,451 theaters.
A film festival favorite, "Slumdog Millionaire" was directed by Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "28 Days Later") and follows the alternately heartwarming and horrific life of a poor Mumbai youth who becomes a contestant on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Quantum of Solace," $70.4 million.
2. "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," $36.1 million.
3. "Role Models," $11.7 million.
4. "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," $5.9 million.
5. "Changeling," $4.2 million.
6. "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," $3.2 million.
7. "Soul Men," $2.43 million.
8. "The Secret Life of Bees," $2.4 million.
9. "Saw V," $1.8 million.
10. "The Haunting of Molly Hartley," $1.6 million.