LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," grossed a record $18.5 million from midnight preview screenings ahead of its official opening on Friday, according to box office tracking service Media By Numbers.
That tally includes receipts from 12:01 a.m. Friday showings only in 3,040 North American theaters -- 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. screenings were not counted -- and shatters the preview record of $16.9 million set by "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" in 2005, Media By Numbers said.
The film's robust performance in advance screenings bolstered projections that "Dark Knight" was headed for an opening weekend of $100 million or more in the United States and Canada.
Its fortunes are further brightened by mostly positive reviews and a record wide release on Friday by Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc, in 4,366 U.S. and Canadian theaters.
"Dark Knight" cost about $180 million to produce.
A follow-up to 2005's "Batman Begins," which grossed about $372 million worldwide, "Dark Knight" reunites director Chris Nolan and star Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader. It also features the late Australian actor Heath Ledger in what turned out to be his last completed screen role, as Batman's arch nemesis, the Joker.
Only 10 other movies have managed to cross the $100 million domestic box-office mark in their first weekend, led by "Spider-Man 3" with $151 million in 2007 and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" with $135.6 million in 2006.
Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh