By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The new "Twilight" vampire movie opened with a massive $283.5 million (179.4 million pounds) in worldwide ticket sales over the weekend as passionate fans filled theaters for the beginning of a two-part finale for the hugely popular supernatural love story.
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 1" captured an estimated $139.5 million in the United States and Canada, distributor Summit Entertainment said on Sunday. That ranked as the fifth biggest domestic opening of all time.
The movie's performance beat studio forecasts for the film, which shows young lovestruck human Bella wedding vampire Edward and becoming pregnant. Summit had predicted as much as $125 million domestically while other box-office analysts had estimated $140 million.
Internationally, "Breaking Dawn" added $144 million in 54 countries over the weekend.
The movie cost about $110 million to make.
The domestic opening ranked as the year's second-highest, behind only the "Harry Potter" finale over the summer. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" pulled in a record $169 million during its debut weekend in July.
But "Breaking Dawn," the fourth movie in the series, failed to top the previous domestic opening-weekend record for a "Twilight" film. "New Moon" debuted to $142.8 million in 2009.
Eighty percent of the film's audience was female, the core fan base for the story based on novels from Stephanie Meyer. Diehard fans of the books have embraced the screen adaptations including the latest movie, said Richie Fay, Summit's president of domestic distribution.
"We delivered to the audience ... exactly what they wanted to see," Fay said. He said the movie's success "bodes well for Breaking Dawn - Part 2," which hits theaters in 2012.
"Breaking Dawn" brought in an average of $34,351 at more than 4,000 screens in North America (U.S. and Canada) from midnight showings early on Friday through Sunday.
The "Twilight" series is one of Hollywood's most lucrative franchises. To date, the franchise has rung up more than $2 billion from box offices worldwide, according to Hollywood.com Box Office.
The series stars Kristen Stewart as human Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as her blood-sucking vampire love, Edward Cullen. Taylor Lautner plays Jacob Black, a werewolf who competes for Bella's affection.
Critics generally disliked "Breaking Dawn," with just 27 percent giving a favorable review on aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences were far more upbeat, scoring the movie a B+ on average, according to survey firm CinemaScore. Females gave the movie an A-.
'TWILIGHT' ECLIPSES OTHER FILMS
The "Twilight" phenomenon overshadowed all other movies over the weekend. Dancing penguin sequel "Happy Feet Two" earned $22.0 million, below studio forecasts for the 3D animated film.
"It was a very difficult weekend. Twilight certainly controlled the marketplace, especially the female audience," said Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. Fellman said he had hoped for an opening around $30 million but expected the movie would gain ground during next week's Thanksgiving holiday and throughout the holiday season.
Action movie "Immortals," last weekend's box-office leader, finished in third place with $12.3 million. Comedy "Jack and Jill," starring Adam Sandler playing a brother and sister, earned $12.0 million to take fourth place for the weekend.
Fifth place belonged to animated family movie "Puss in Boots," a spinoff from the blockbuster "Shrek" series. "Puss" pulled in $10.7 million domestically over the weekend.
Also this weekend, "The Descendants" starring George Clooney as a father reconnecting with his daughters opened in a small number of theaters. Touted as an Oscar contender, the film brought in $1.2 million from 29 locations, or $42,150 per theatre. Distributor Fox Searchlight, a unit of News Corp, will bring the movie to more than 400 theaters next weekend.
"Breaking Dawn" was released by independent studio Summit Entertainment. Time Warner Inc unit Warner Bros. released "Happy Feet Two." Privately held Relativity Media released "Immortals." "Puss in Boots" was produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine, Editing by Sandra Maler)