LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The "Twilight" sequel scored the third-biggest opening weekend of all time at the North American box office on Sunday, as millions of young women swooned over the complex love triangle involving a high school girl, a vampire and a werewolf.
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" earned an estimated $140.7 million during its first three days of release across the United States and Canada, closely held distributor Summit Entertainment said, crushing industry expectations.
The record for an opening is $158 million, set last year by the Batman sequel "The Dark Knight." The 2007 movie "Spider-Man 3" follows with $151 million. "New Moon" replaced "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" ($136 million) at No. 3.
The vampire romance is well on its way to exceeding the $193 million total of its predecessor, "Twilight," which was released exactly a year ago.
Summit Entertainment said "New Moon" also set an opening-day record with Friday sales of $72.7 million, surpassing the $67.2 million haul of "The Dark Knight."
That tally was bolstered by record-breaking midnight sales of $26.3 million. The old mark was set earlier this year by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" with $22.2 million.
The closely held studio said "New Moon" also earned $118.1 million from 25 foreign markets. Data from individual countries were not immediately available.
Exit-polling data in North America indicated that women accounted for 80 percent of the audience and half the audience was under 21. Summit said male moviegoers increased their share by a couple of percentage points, and the new film also brought in a few more older women.
"New Moon" revisits the dangerous romance between high school student Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).
After falling in love with each other in "Twilight," Bella and Edward break up in "New Moon." Bella hooks up with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), an American Indian who is also a werewolf. Jacob protects Bella, but she still longs for the gentle blood-sucker Edward. Chris Weitz directed the $50 million project.
Reviews were largely scathing, but the franchise is considered critic-proof. Indeed, the stars have become sex symbols whose real-life romances with each other (Stewart and Pattinson) or with country star Taylor Swift (Lautner) have long been gossip-column fodder. Fans lined up outside theaters days before the sequel opened.
The "Twilight" film franchise is based on a series of four novels of the same name by Stephenie Meyer, which her publisher says have sold 85 million copies worldwide. A third film, "Eclipse," is due in June.
Also new at the box office was the Sandra Bullock family drama "The Blind Side" at a distant No. 2 with $34.5 million, the best opening of her career. The fact-based movie was released by Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros. Pictures on behalf of independent producer Alcon Entertainment. Bullock plays a Tennessee housewife who transforms a homeless black teenager into a high-school football star.
The cartoon "Planet 51" opened at No. 4 with a modest $12.6 million, playing almost exclusively to parents and young children.
Last weekend's champion, the disaster movie "2012," fell to No. 3 with $26.5 million, taking its 10-day haul to $108.2 million. The picture led the foreign box office for a second weekend with $100.5 million; its foreign tally soared to $341.1 million. Both "Planet 51" and "2012" were released by Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp.
Walt Disney Co's stop-motion adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" fell three places to No. 5 with $12.2 million in its third weekend; its tally stands at $79.8 million.
Editing by Bill Trott and Jackie Frank