SUNDAY AM UPDATE: Huge pre-sales added up to a franchise record shattering opening in North American for the new Bond film. That’s phenomenal, considering 007’s 46-year history. It made $27M on Friday and another $26.1M Saturday from 3,451 theaters. So MGM/Sony were thrilled that their costly Quantum Of Solace‘s weekend grosses totaled $70.4M in North America (including Sunday’s estimate of $17.3M). That far exceeds the $60M which Hollywood expected. It’s also blows away by 73% the $40.8M North American weekend debut of Daniel Craig’s James Bond in MGM/Sony’s Casino Royale (November 2006), and easily beats the $47.1M bow of Die Another Day (November 2002) that used to be the best ever. Quantum‘s success must be due to either pent-up demand for Hollywood’s holiday season product or Daniel Craig’s new-found popularity or both. Because the new Bond-as-Bourne’s reviews were dismal (only 35% positive from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes as opposed to 95% for its predecessor). But it appears this 22nd Bond’s delayed U.S. debut — three weeks after its October 31st bow in the UK and two weeks after most of the world — proved to be a savvy distribution and marketing move for the new pic. Even though U.S. Bond fans have been bitching and moaning all over the Internet that they didn’t want to wait so long to see the film, which so far has made a staggering $251M internationally from 73 territories, or $322M worldwide. The pic is over halfway towards Casino Royale‘s global $599.2M after coming off a $126.5M weekend overseas.
And it has yet to open in Japan, Australia and Spain.

Last weekend’s big No. 1 film Madascagar: Escape 2 Africa, produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Paramount, was #2 with $8.1M Friday and $16.9M Saturday from 4,065 venues. That’s an impressive $36.1M weekend, down only 43% from a week ago because of crowded Saturday kiddie matinees, for a fresh new cume of $118M. The family fare soared over the $100M mark in just 10 days time. Universal’s surprisingly robust R-rated comedy Role Models held for No. 3 with only a 39% drop for an $11.7M weekend and a new $38.1M cume. At No. 4, Disney’s tween/teen hit among females High School Musical 3: Senior Year added another $5.8M weekend for a solid new cume of $84.3M. And Changeling, Universal’s Oscar-touted drama directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie, came in No. 5. It earned an additional $4.2M for a fresh $27.6M cume.

No. 6 was The Weinstein Co’s Zack And Miri Make A Porno from Kevin Smith with a $3.2M weekend and new $26.5M cume. The Weinstein Co’s other pic, distributed by MGM, was #7, the late Bernie Mac’s Soul Men, which had a $2.4M weekend and now a $9.4M cume. At No. 8, Fox Searchlight’s The Secret Life of Bees, based on the best-selling novel, earned another $2.4M this weekend for a fresh $33.6M cume. In No. 9, Lionsgate’s horrific R-rated Saw V made $1.7M this weekend for a new cume of $55.4. And, ounding out the Top 10, Freestyle Releasing’s The Haunting Of Mollie Hartley squeezed out $1.6M this weekend for a $12.6M cume.

The only other new film of note is Fox Searchlight’s Oscar-heralded and Danny Boyle-directed Slumdog Millionaire, which platformed in 10 theaters for a $350K weekend and a $418.1K new cume. It managed a huge per screen average of $35,043.

Overall, the weekend box office totaled a hefty $155M, up 49% from last year’s $103.7M.

Back to 007… Here’s why Quantum Of Solace opened late. It started when The Dark Knight made so much money that Warner Bros. decided to give other studios early Xmas cheer by moving Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to 2009, thus freeing up its original release date of November 21th (which about-to-be-blockbuster Twilight grabbed). That allowed Quantum of Solace to move from November 7th to November 14th. However, that also meant the new Bond pic’s U.S. bow would really lag behind its UK/France/Sweden record-breaking opening October 31st to November 2nd. That date was considered optimum for Europe because of a conveniently placed bank holiday. So why didn’t the studios pull the trigger on 007 at the same time in North America? Because when Halloween falls on a Friday, Saturday or even Sunday, it’s considered the worst weekend to open a movie here. Plus, Sony has had tremendous success with its pre-Thanksgiving plays. (You think these people aren’t superstitious?) So Quantum Of Solace wound up with this weekend all to itself in North America.

The new Bond film opened #1 in every territory where it debuted and exceeded  the opening of Casino Royale in almost every market. A true sequel since its storyline picks up just one hour later, 007 had been tracking strongest among males, with hard-body Craig bringing interest from older women. In North America, the opening weekend exit polling showed the audience was 54% male and 46% female, with  58% over age 25 and 42% under 25. But filmgoers may not have realized this is 007 without the beloved Bond clichés and stereotypes. In fact, pic 22 is more like Bond-as-Bourne since it dropped Moneypenny, dropped Q, dropped the wit, dropped the gadgets and dropped the line “The name is Bond, James Bond.”

Meanwhile, rival studios tell me this may be the costliest film ever made minute-by-minute: $261 million for a 105-minute movie, which comes out to almost $2.5 million per minute. (Highest is the $300-million price-tag for 165-minute Pirates of The Caribbean 3.) But Sony sources say that number is off base by more than $60 million. Plus they claim tax credits from filming. Which is why one veteran film financing source warned me, “The film cost a fortune, and they spent a fortune to release it, so it better do well. Everything is relative.”