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"Skyfall" grossed $87.8 million in its first three days

That total makes its debut the very best in the Bond series

"Skyfall" also had the seventh-best November opening weekend of all time

Global box office buzz and the Bond 50th anniversary helped the film perform

EW  — 

After four years off of the silver screen, James Bond made his triumphant return this weekend in “Skyfall” — and the British spy’s appeal was bigger than ever.

The action thriller grossed a truly massive $87.8 million in its first three days (and an additional $2.2 million during Thursday night previews), making its debut the very best in the Bond series’ 23-film history — by a huge margin.

“Skyfall” shattered the previous opening weekend record for a Bond film, which was set in 2008 when “Quantum of Solace” bowed with $67.5 million. With the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday on the horizon and a straight “A” CinemaScore grade, it’s likely that “Skyfall” will also become the first Bond movie to ever pass the $200 million mark at the domestic box office. (Of course, this is not accounting for inflation.)

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“Skyfall’s” debut marks the seventh-best November opening weekend of all time — behind two “Twilight” films and four “Harry Potter” titles — and the film, which Sony and MGM spent about $200 million to make, garnered an impressive $25,050 per theater average from 3,505 theaters. “Skyfall’s” per-theater average was even more impressive in IMAX locations, where the film found $13.1 million (15 percent of its weekend gross) from 320 screens, good for a $40,938 average.

Daniel Craig, the sixth man to play Bond, has seen his popularity as the character surge since taking over the iconic role in 2006. His first Bond film, “Casino Royale,” debuted with $40.8 million on the way to a $167.4 million finish. Two years later, “Quantum of Solace” opened 65 percent higher with $67.5 million on the way to $168.5 million total. (Reception for the film was tepid, which is why its endurance at the box office was so much weaker than “Casino Royale’s.”) And now “Skyfall” has improved upon “Quantum’s” opening weekend by 30 percent. At this rate, Craig’s next turn as Bond (due in 2014) could garner well over $100 million in its debut frame.

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Before the weekend had even begun, “Skyfall” had already proven itself a remarkable success internationally, and it continued to do so over the past three days. In its third weekend of release, the film earned an additional $89 million, which lifts its overseas total to $428.6 million and its worldwide cumulative to $518.6 million. “Skyfall’s” most popular international territory has been the United Kingdom, where it has earned £72.9 million ($117.5 million) in 17 days, already establishing it as the fourth highest grossing film in British history. “Skyfall” will easily become the first Bond film to surpass $600 million worldwide — a testament to both the booming state of the international box office and Bond’s enduring appeal.

So what made “Skyfall” reach such sky-high numbers? Timing likely helped. Though MGM’s financial woes prevented the film from starting production on schedule, the delay may have worked in “Skyfall’s” favor. Not only were audiences (which were 60 percent male and 75 percent above the age of 25) extra-eager for a new installment, but the film got to debut during the 50th anniversary year of the Bond franchise, which has given the character substantial publicity in 2012. On top of that, Adele’s well-received theme song has also boosted “Skyfall’s” profile nicely. It debuted at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

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Moreover, Sony aggressively marketed the film over the past two months, and Daniel Craig’s numerous endorsement deals have kept his public profile strong leading up to the release.

Still, all these marketing and publicity efforts pale in comparison to the organic buzz that formed around “Skyfall.” The presence of director Sam Mendes and Oscar winner Javier Bardem gave the project an elevated pedigree, and early response to the film ranged from strong to wildly positive. (It currently boasts a 93 percent “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.) And, coverage in the U.S. of the film’s boffo international business only swelled anticipation further. In other words, the stars aligned perfectly for “Skyfall” to have a true box office moment.

Heading into the frame, I predicted an $85 million opening weekend.

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Other movies at the box office held up well in the face of “Skyfall.” Disney’s animated “Wreck-It Ralph” finished in second place, dropping by a slim 33 percent to $33.1 million in its sophomore weekend. After 10 days, the $165 million videogame-themed comedy has grossed $93.7 million, and provided it isn’t utterly cannibalized by Dreamworks’ “Rise of the Guardians” (due November 21), it looks to be headed for a finish in the $175-200 million range.

“Wreck-It Ralph’s” weekend gross is particularly notable given the fact that it made “only” $7.8 million on Friday. Family films have a tendency to bring in booming bucks on Saturday and hold well on Sunday, and “Wreck-It Ralph” was no exception. It increased by a whopping 87 percent to $14.7 million on Saturday and eased just 29 percent to $10.5 million on Sunday.

Denzel Washington’s “Flight” descended into third place in its second frame, dropping 39 percent to $15.1 million — an impressive hold considering it shares an adult target audience with “Skyfall.” Paramount’s well-received $31 million drama has earned $47.8 million after ten days, and it’s vying to become Washington’s second $100 million earner in 2012 after “Safe House,” which grossed $126.2 million in February.

“Argo” held strong in fourth place in its fifth weekend of release. Warner Bros.’ $45 million Ben Affleck-directed feature dropped 34 percent to $6.7 million, bringing its domestic total to $85.7 million. Over the next few weeks, a slew of expected nominations and honors at end-of-the-year awards ceremonies should help push “Argo” right past $100 million.

Rounding out the top five was Fox’s “Taken 2,” which dipped 32 percent to $4 million and now has a strong $131.3 million total. The $45 million Liam Neeson thriller has proved powerful overseas as well — its international total stood at $217.1 million heading into the weekend.

1. “Skyfall” – $87.8 million

2. “Wreck-It Ralph” – $33.1 million

3. “Flight” – $15.1 million

4. “Argo” – $6.7 million

5. “Taken 2” – $4.0 million

In limited release, DreamWorks’ “Lincoln” got off to a tremendous start, earning $900,000 from 11 theaters in seven cities, enough for a stunning $81,818 per theater average.

The Steven Spielberg-helmed Oscar contender, which earned an “A” CinemaScore grade, will expand into about 1,500 locations next weekend, when it will face off against “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” which, based on early tracking reports, just may be the biggest “Twilight” movie of them all.

See the full story at EW.com.