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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The latest James Bond thriller dominated the box office in much of the world during the weekend, boosted by a record opening in North America, distributor Columbia Pictures said on Sunday.
"Quantum of Solace" sold $70.4 million worth of tickets in its first three days of release across the United States and Canada. Industry pundits had forecast an opening in the $60 million range.
The record for a Bond opening in North America was held by "Die Another Day," which earned $47.1 million during its first weekend in November 2002. That film was the last one starring Pierce Brosnan.
"Quantum of Solace" and its 2006 predecessor "Casino Royale," which opened to $40.8 million, starred Daniel Craig. The laconic English actor has invested the famed agent with a darker, more complicated personality.
The new film also earned $56.1 million in 73 countries during the weekend. Having begun its international run two weeks ago, the foreign total now stands at $251.6 million. With a worldwide haul of $322 million, the film is fast approaching the $594 million tally of "Casino Royale."
Britain was the top foreign market with sales to date of $64.1 million, while Germany and France have each kicked in about $26 million. "Quantum" has already earned more in France than "Casino Royale" did during its entire run there, Columbia said.
The $200 million film was directed by Swiss-German filmmaker Marc Forster, who made his name with smaller pieces such as the Oscar-winning domestic-abuse saga "Monster's Ball" and the James Barrie melodrama "Neverland."
While critics have approved of Bond's less-campy demeanor, they were less than enthused about the plot of new film. Bond travels the world battling a villain (French actor Mathieu Amalric) looking to control natural resources. Along the way, the vengeful hero earns the enmity of the British and U.S. spy agencies.
The Wall Street Journal described the film as "a model of mediocrity," while the Washington Post said it was an "often visually incoherent travelogue of revenge and trumped-up angst."
The film is billed as a 50/50 partnership with closely held Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. Columbia, a unit of Sony Corp, oversaw production, marketing and distribution and funded most of the $200 million production budget. MGM has ancillary rights, such as DVD distribution.
Elsewhere in North America, last weekend's champion "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" slipped to No. 2 with $36.1 million. After 10 days, DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc's cartoon sequel has already earned $118 million -- 18 percent ahead of the pace of its 2005 predecessor, which finished its run with $193.6 million.
There were no other major new releases. But in the art-house world, "Slumdog Millionaire" earned $350,434 from 10 theaters in six cities. On a per-theater basis, it earned 72 percent more than "Quantum of Solace." British filmmaker Danny Boyle directed the film about an Indian slum-dweller who competes on a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"-type game show.
The film, which has generated some Oscar buzz, was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, a unit of News Corp.
Editing by Eric Walsh