In addition to that killing thing, James Bond now has a license to print money at the box office. The 22nd official adventure in the 007 series, Quantum of Solace, shook and stirred up the record books this weekend with a huge $70.4 million debut, according to Sunday's estimates, and it walked away with an easy win.
Daniel Craig's second outing as the British secret agent, which has already banked more than $250 mil overseas, fared far better in its domestic debut than even the loftiest projections predicted. Its first-weekend haul is the best ever for a James Bond film (topping Die Another Day's $47 mil opening) and an astonishing 73 percent more than the $40.8 mil premiere of its predecessor, Casino Royale, two years ago. What's more, it has also virtually tied The Incredibles ($70.5 mil) for the biggest non-Harry Potter November debut ever (Monday's final figures will iron out the exact rankings). And consider this: Before Pierce Brosnan re-energized the franchise in the 1990s, no 007 movie had banked more than $68 mil during its entire box office run (not adjusted for inflation); Quantum of Solace has managed the feat in only three days. As Sean Connery might say, ''Shocking, positively shocking.''
All of which is impressive to be sure, but don't forget that Quantum of Solace was the only major new movie of the weekend, so it had an easy time earning nearly half of all the money spent at the box office. And there is another potential problem: In crafting a sleeker, more Jason Bourne-esque thriller to appeal to today's crowds, director Marc Forster and the ever-powerful James Bond producing team may have alienated some of the fans who'd keep returning to buy tickets. The film has been hit by middling reviews from critics and it earned a poor B- grade from audiences in the CinemaScore poll. Too, its demographics are not ideal: Three-quarters of its viewers have been over the age of 25. All of which points to a potential steep drop in the weeks to come especially opposite such formidable fare as Twilight and Bolt. In other words, from the perspective of the folks behind the film, it's probably a good thing that Quantum of Solace (which is reported to have cost well more than $200 mil...before its huge marketing expenditures) earned as much as it did this weekend.
Elsewhere at the multiplex, kids continued to flock to Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (No. 2), which grossed $36.1 mil to bring its 10-day total to a stellar $118 mil; it is the 19th movie to cross the $100 mil mark this year. Role Models (No. 3) declined a mere 39 percent to bank $11.7 mil. High School Musical 3: Senior Year was next at No. 4 with $5.9 mil; its four-week sum is $84.4 mil. Changeling rounded out the top five with $4.2 mil. And in the art houses, the latest Danny Boyle creation, Slumdog Millionaire, premiered with a whopping $35,043 average in 10 venues.
Overall, 007's huge weekend helped the box office get a nearly 50 percent bounce over the same frame a year ago, when Beowulf was the big new movie. Indeed, with Quantum of Solace earning $70.4 mil on the heels of Madagascar 2's $63.1 mil debut last time around, this marks only the second time ever that two back-to-back non-summer weekends have boasted bows in excess of $60 mil. (Recession? What recession?) Can we make it three in a row when Twilight and Bolt hit theaters on Friday? Stay tuned.