REUTERS - The "Twilight" vampire saga's final chapter debuted with a massive $341 million in global movie ticket sales as devoted fans bid farewell to blood-sucking spouses Bella and Edward and one of Hollywood's biggest franchises.
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" earned an estimated $141 million in the United States and Canada over the weekend, falling slightly short of a record for the supernatural romance series about a human-vampire-werewolf love triangle.
The total, which includes sales from late night Thursday through Sunday, ranked as the eight biggest domestic film debut of all time. Late-night Thursday screenings comprised $30.4 million of the $141 million total.
Fan fever for the fifth "Twilight" movie raged high around the world. "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" rang up sales of $199.6 million from Thursday to Sunday at theaters in 61 countries for a worldwide total of $341 million, distributor Summit Entertainment said on Sunday.
The earlier "Twilight" films pulled in a combined $2.5 billion at global box offices over a four-year run. The success lifted tiny studio Summit Entertainment into Hollywood's big leagues and paved the way for its $412 million acquisition in January by Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF.N).
"New Moon" scored the biggest debut of the series, grossing $142.8 million over its first three days in 2009.
The movies based on a series of best-selling young adult books by Stephenie Meyer ignited a pop culture infatuation with blood-sucking vampires and werewolves. The films star Kristen Stewart as human-turned-vampire Bella Swan, Robert Pattinson as her vampire love Edward Cullen, and Taylor Lautner as werewolf Jacob Black, who competes for Bella's affection.
Summit spent $120 million to produce "Breaking Dawn - Part 2," which concludes the tale with newly turned vampire Bella and husband Edward in a high-stakes battle to protect their half-human, half-vampire daughter from an ancient vampire clan. The couple enlist the extended Cullen family in their fight.
Fans of the series, mostly teen girls nicknamed "Twi-hards," embraced the final film, which includes a surprise twist that was not in the final book. Audiences polled by CinemaScore awarded the movie an "A" grade, with an "A+" from filmgoers under age 25, according to Summit. Critics were less supportive. Fifty-one percent of reviews collected on the Rotten Tomatoes website were positive.
Summit Entertainment's president of domestic distribution Richie Fay said though the vast majority of the audience was female, he expected more male viewers than for previous "Twilight" films.
"The male audience has increased a good bit, and the ratings among males are higher I think in part to the action in the film," he said.
Author Meyer has not ruled out the possibility of more stories in the vampire-werewolf universe but said she has closed the chapter on the Cullens.
Hollywood is eager to fill the void after the success of "Twilight" highlighted the power of young adult stories on the big screen. Studios are bringing at least four new films based on popular young adult novels to theaters next year as well as the sequel to the newest teen movie sensation, "The Hunger Games.
The "Twilight" excitement eclipsed all other movies over the weekend. Last week's winner, James Bond movie "Skyfall" finished in second place with $41.5 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters.
"Skyfall" is now the highest-grossing Bond movie to date with a global total of over $669 million, surpassing the $599 million taken in by "Casino Royale" in 2006.
"Skyfall" also propelled distributer Sony Pictures Entertainment to a record year, pushing its worldwide box office total over the $4 billion mark.
Historical drama "Lincoln" expanded from a limited opening a week ago and landed in third place with $21 million. The movie stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president near the end of his life as he battles to ban slavery and end the Civil War. The movie is directed by Steven Spielberg and has earned critical praise and awards-season buzz.
In fourth place, Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) animated movie "Wreck-It Ralph," about a videogame character who destroys everything in his path, pulled in $18.3 million. Denzel Washington drama "Flight" earned $8.6 million and the No. 5 spot.
Elsewhere, romantic comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" brought in $458,000 at 16 locations, or an average of $28,625 per theater. The film stars Bradley Cooper as a bipolar former teacher just released from a mental institution and Jennifer Lawrence as a young widow he encounters as he tries to put his life back together.
"Silver Linings" won over critics who say it may earn a spot in the Oscar race. The Weinstein Co, the private company that released the movie, will expand the film nationwide beginning on Wednesday, November 21.
Sony Corp's (6758.T) movie studio distributed "Skyfall." "Lincoln" was produced by Dreamworks and released by Walt Disney Co (DIS.N). "Flight" was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc (VIAB.O).
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Jackie Frank)
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