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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Twilight," the vampire romance that has spurred feverish anticipation among young female moviegoers, took a bigger-than-expected $70.55 million bite out of the weekend box office in North America, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.
The teen smash crushed the competition, including "Bolt," a Walt Disney Co canine cartoon that made its debut at No. 3 with a disappointing $27 million.
"Twilight's" showing was the best opening weekend for a movie since "The Dark Knight" launched with a record $158 million in July.
Last weekend's champion, the James Bond outing "Quantum of Solace," slipped to No. 2 with $27.4 million.
"Twilight," the first in a planned franchise based on the best-selling books by Stephenie Meyer, was released by nascent independent studio Summit Entertainment LLC. Studios such as MTV Films and Fox Atomic had passed on the project.
Not unlike each new "Harry Potter" movie, the film has had fans on tenterhooks for months, in this case young girls and their mothers. Many fans camped out overnight ahead of the film's world premiere in Los Angeles on Monday. Hundreds of "Twilight" performances set for midnight Thursday sold out quickly.
Going into the weekend, industry pundits had forecast a three-day opening somewhere above $50 million but that target was blown out by the film's $36 million take on Friday -- a sum that almost matched its official budget.
Women accounted for three-quarters of the audience and 55 percent of viewers were under the age of 25, Summit said. It was confident the movie could spread its appeal to other demographics.
"Where the young girls are, the young boys soon will follow," said Richie Fay, president of domestic theatrical distribution at Summit.
The film's director, Catherine Hardwicke, said she attended a screening on Saturday afternoon where a thirty-something woman told her that she had already seen the film eight times. But the audience also included "a ton of men ... some pretty old dudes," Hardwicke said.
British actor Robert Pattinson stars as the brooding vampire Edward and Kristen Stewart plays the object of his affection, Bella. A sequel is in the works, based on the second book, "New Moon." Hardwicke has the option to direct, but said she wanted to make sure it is planned the right way since it involves werewolves and an Italian setting.
"Bolt" features the voices of John Travolta and Miley Cyrus. Pundits had forecast an opening upward of $40 million. Disney said it would have preferred an opening in the $30 million range but hoped to recover in the coming Thanksgiving holiday week.
The last Disney cartoon -- as opposed to any from its Pixar division -- was "Meet the Robinsons," which opened to $25 million in March 2007. Just two weeks ago, rival studio DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc sequel "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" opened to $63.1 million. It fell two places to No. 4 this weekend with $16.0 million and a total of $137 million.
"Quantum of Solace" has earned $109.5 million after 10 days and remained the No. 1 film internationally with sales of $40.6 million. Its worldwide total stands at $418 million. The film was released by Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp, which produced the film with closely held Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
Editing by Bill Trott